Conversations with Birds
“Birds are my almanac. They tune me into the seasons, and into myself.”
So begins this lively collection of essays by acclaimed filmmaker and novelist Priyanka Kumar. Growing up at the feet of the Himalayas in northern India, Kumar took for granted her immersion in a lush natural world. After moving to North America as a teenager, she found herself increasingly distanced from more than human life, and discouraged by the civilization she saw contributing to its destruction. It was only in her twenties, living in Los Angeles and working on films, that she began to rediscover her place in the landscape — and in the cosmos — by way of watching birds.
Tracing her movements across the American West, this stirring collection of essays brings the avian world richly to life. Kumar’s perspective is not that of a list keeper, counting and cataloguing species. Rather, from the mango-colored western tanager that rescues her from a bout of altitude sickness in Sequoia National Park to ancient sandhill cranes in the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, and from the snowy plovers building shallow nests with bits of shell and grass to the white-breasted nuthatch that regularly visits the apricot tree behind her family’s casita in Sante Fe, for Kumar, birds “become a portal to a more vivid, enchanted world.”
At a time when climate change, habitat loss, and the reckless use of pesticides are causing widespread extinction of species, Kumar’s reflections on these messengers from our distant past and harbingers of our future offer luminous evidence of her suggestion that “seeds of transformation lie dormant in all of our hearts. Sometimes it just takes the right bird to awaken us.”
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Praise and Prizes
“A bird the color of mangoes, a beachcomber with a crescent-moon bill, the owl who controls the dark side of nature: in unforgettable encounters with feathered neighbors like these, Priyanka Kumar charts the life-changing surprise and splendor that birds can bring. They open the heart. They widen the soul. For Kumar, a peripatetic filmmaker and often a stranger in a strange land, birds have revealed connection and created wholeness. How grateful I am for the chance to join this generous author’s lyrical, intimate, and revelatory conversations with birds!”
“In this collection of elegant and evocative essays, a novelist reflects on the beauty and significance of birds, those animals that ‘become a portal to a more vivid, enchanted world.’”
"Kumar wows in this sparkling exploration of her relationship with the birds that serve as her 'almanac' and help her tune 'in to the seasons' and to herself. . . . Kumar's reflections are rendered in elegant prose and are rich with vivid descriptions: 'At the brink of the water, turquoise with milky sprays, the birds pirouetted and scooted away from the vigorously choppy waves' . . . These outstanding reflections will inspire and enlighten, and are perfect for readers of Diane Ackerman."
“The essays in Conversations With Birds are rendered in finely wrought prose, steeped in memory and thrumming with endless curiosity about nature.”
“I recently read Priyanka Kumar’s outstanding and profoundly moving book Conversations With Birds… and realized that her prose and personal stories could help people around the world rewild their hearts and souls.”
"Growing up in India, Priyanka Kumar felt connected to the natural world. It was hard to find that in America as an adult—until she and her husband were invited to go on a bird walk, unlocking that passion once again. Conversations with Birds chronicles just some of Kumar’s most significant avian encounters in the American southwest, ranging across the map from songbirds to birds of prey. These beautiful reflections range from spiritual to breathtaking to concerns of how our rapidly changing climate puts all of life at risk—not just the things with feathers. Gorgeous, stirring, and memorable.”
“Birds have guided Priyanka Kumar through danger, loss, joy, and change. In her moving collection of elegant essays, Conversations with Birds, she recounts her close encounters with cranes and curlews, owls and tanagers, generously sharing their wisdom and her own."
“Priyanka Kumar is attuned to the animating power that links her—and you and me—to our fellow creatures. While she has a deep affinity for birds, especially cranes and eagles and owls, she communes as well with bobcat, coyote, fox and their four-legged kin. It is a joy to travel with this versatile artist, often in the company of her husband and their two young daughters, as she roams the American Southwest in search of elusive and majestic wildlife.”
"Priyanka Kumar’s graceful and unusual work reminds us, again, of everything we lose with each insult to the natural world. Conversations with Birds is a wonderful read!”
“An eloquent depiction of how birding engenders a deep love of our ecosystems and a more profound understanding of ourselves.”
“Novelist Kumar takes stock of the beauty she’s found in birds, from northern India to the American West.”
“In the luminous essays of Priyanka Kumar’s Conversations with Birds, birds are a portal to reclaiming childhood connections with nature and the lush, wild landscape of northern India’s remote mountains.”
“Conversations With Birds consists of Kumar’s observations, insights, and engagement with birds and the earth in prose that feels like a gentle guide for the reader to nurture their own relationship with nature, whatever it may look like…Kumar’s writing is one of many reminders of what we have to lose, and what we must save.”
“In Conversations with Birds… Priyanka Kumar shares her vast knowledge of birds and wildlife …The author’s word choices and turns of phrase are sometimes downright delightful, enlivening her reportage of birdwatching treks.”