Published by CCLaP on Apr. 2014
Genres: Memoir, Non-Fiction
“We travel, some of us forever, to seek other states, other lives other souls,” Sethi quotes Anais Nin at the very beginning of this book, adding, “What you are reading was supposed to be a book about birds, but it is about this, too.”
In 2011, Meera Lee Sethi finds herself volunteering at a small bird observatory in western Sweden. Although at first she feels like an awkward city slicker, she grows to love the daily routines, trekking through the mountains to visit bird mating grounds called leks, tracking birds tagged with geolocators, observing nests, and recording data.
This short book, which can easily be read on a lazy afternoon, is composed of short vignettes about Sethi’s experiences in Sweden. Although her stories feature the habits of great snipe, hooded crow, and common cuckoo, Mountainfit is about so much more than birds. It’s about finding your place in the world, getting lost in the beauty of the wilderness, meeting new people, and being inspired by the mythology-provoking lives of tiny winged creatures.
Sethi’s writing has a spare and subtle quality to it that was really lovely to read. It took me out of my drab cubicle at work, where I was reading on my lunch break, and deposited me on a Scandinavian mountainside, where I could almost taste the crisp, cool air and hear the birds calling across the valleys.
She writes about how, although she has a good life at home in Chicago, she wonders if she has a “different form” inside her, and I can relate to this sentiment, as well as the love she feels for her time hiking through the mountains. I’ve seen a lot of landscapes: white sand beeches, cornfields as far as the eye can see, scrubby desert wastelands, rolling green hills… but it’s in the mountains where my soul feels light and free and happy. I felt this kind of peace, but also the sense of wonder and mystery, in Sethi’s writing.
Although I have never really been interested in birds (they actually make me kind of nervous), I found Sethi’s descriptions of bird mating rituals, migratory routes, and other behavior really interesting. I enjoyed not only learning a little bit about the birds inhabiting this northern region, but hearing many of the myths that have surrounding birds. It was fascinating to learn about the folklore birds have inspired; the stories the author shares reveal a lot about how we relate to birds and our desire to understand their language.
At the surface, Mountainfit is a book about a summer spent at a bird observatory, but at its heart are beautiful, quiet meditations on how we relate to nature. This is a really lovely little book, and I thank Lori at CCLaP (Chicago Center for Literature and Photography) for asking me to review it!
Mountainfit can be downloaded for free (or with voluntary donation, hint hint!) at CCLaP’s website. It can also be purchased as a beautiful hand-bound hardcover!
I received a complimentary copy of the e-book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.