288 pages, illustrations
Readers, booksellers and literary judges alike fell in love with Trevor Herriot's stunning debut book, River in a Dry Land. In his remarkable new work, he draws on 20 years' experience as an observer of nature to reveal the spirit of the grassland world, and the uniqueness of its birds.
Facing the demise of the very creatures that he has always depended on for his sense of home, Herriot sets out to discover why birds are disappearing and what, if anything, we can do to save them. He takes us out to local pastures where a few prairie songbirds sing and nest, as well as to the open rangeland where doomed populations of burrowing owls and greater sage-grouse cling to survival. In a narrative that is at once profound, intimate and informative, we meet passionate bird researchers and travel in the footsteps of 19th-century botanist John Macoun, the last naturalist to see the Great Plains in its pre-settlement grandeur.
In the spirit of Rachel Carson's Silent Spring and Bruce Chatwin's The Songlines, this arresting book fills the heart with wonder and reveals that any hope for the endangered wildness in North America's heartland depends on people making the right choices – on farms, in legislatures and in board rooms, and even at the supermarket. Beautifully illustrated with the author's own drawings, Grass, Sky, Song awakens our senses to the glory of all birds and calls for a renewed bond between culture and nature.
" [...] Grass, Sky, Song is an extremely well-written look at the state of North American grasslands and its birds. Although it focuses specifically on the Canadian Great Plains, it is applicable across the continent (and probably the world). As the author discovers, what is happening to the birds in his area, at the northern limits of the prairies, will soon be happening further south. We all need to take heed.
Herriot may not have found exactly what he set out for, but the book definitely serves a purpose. It will give you an appreciation for this imperiled ecosystem, alert you to the dangers it faces, and encourage you to do something about it. I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in grasslands and its birds, or conservation in general."
- Grant McCreary (04-08-2009), read the full review at The Birder's Library
"At first, Trevor Herriot's Grass, Sky, Song seems like little more than a perfect summer read. The book combines information, meditation, and a captivating evocation of place. Short chapters about the Sasketchewan grassland are interspersed with even shorter essays about the birds that sing away their summers there. Herriot's line drawings of birds are lively, accurate, and sometimes amusing. Furthermore, each section is just long enough to finish before you fall asleep in a deck chair or decide it's time to turn out the light and go to sleep. But Herriot, a prairie naturalist and author of the acclaimed memoir River in a Dry Land, wants to wake us up, not lull us to sleep. His book recounts how the prairies have been transformed, and their avian residents decimated, since modern agriculture took hold. Like canaries in mines, the declining numbers of grassland birds are indicators of the damage we have wrought to the prairies, and to ourselves. Herriot argues that we need to recreate the prairies as a natural habitat, something that will only occur as a result of collaborative efforts by people who love the land. The task will be difficult, but not impossible, since the elements required – prescribed burns, native grassland restoration, and co-operatives of beef and bison producers and consumers – have been individually implemented in the past with success. Grass, Sky, Song is dedicated to Herriot's wife, Karen. Halfway through the book we learn that Karen developed breast cancer while he was writing it. Her struggle appears to have inspired Herriot to broaden his focus. He cites several studies asserting that pesticide use has not only been dangerous for birds, it has also contributed to an increase in cancer rates among humans. Yet hope can arise from individual tragedies, Herriot suggests. "If we are lucky," he writes, "the message in disease [...] triggers something in the heart. Our lives, and all the lives of this land, depend on just such a change of heart." Herriot's book, then, is not merely a lyrical summer read, but a call to action. Birdsong, he concludes, is not a lullaby but an admonition and a promise: "replenish the earth and you shall be replenished as well.""
- Quill & Quire
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Trevor Herriot is a grassland conservationist and naturalist who writes about human and natural history on the northern Great Plains. His last book, Grass, Sky, Song: Promise and Peril in the World of Grassland Birds was a Globe and Mail Best Book of the Year and one of Quill & Quire's 15 Books That Mattered Most in 2009, and it was shortlisted for the Writers' Trust Prize for Nonfiction, the Governor General’s Literary Award for Non-fiction and the William Saroyan International Prize for Writing (Nonfiction). His first book, River in a Dry Land: a Prairie Passage (2000), received several national awards and a nomination for the Governor General’s Literary Award for Non-fiction. His second book, Jacob's Wound: a Search for the Spirit of Wildness (2004), was nominated for several awards, including a short-listing for the Writers' Trust Prize for Nonfiction. Trevor's writing has appeared in The Globe and Mail and Canadian Geographic, as well as in several anthologies. He has written two radio documentaries for CBC's Ideas and is a regular guest on CBC Radio Saskatchewan’s Blue Sky. He and his wife, Karen, have four children and live in Regina.