Earlier this month I asked the author about what she was been reading. Ransom's reply:
When I was in New York City a few weeks ago, I almost missed my train home because I went to the Strand Book Store. I staggered around the four floors of towering shelves, thrilled to be among genuine book-lovers and around a knowledgeable, caring staff. Two books by Tim Gallagher (editor of Living Bird, a highly-respected ornithology journal from Cornell) fell into my hands. I started reading them on my way home on the train.Visit Candice Ransom's website.
Both books are about chasing extinct woodpeckers. The Grail Bird: Hot on the Trail of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker is a romp through the bayou country of the Mississippi Delta. Gallagher actually sights an ivory-bill and you root for him, despite the nay-sayers. Because I live in the south and watch birds, I appreciate the swamp-slogging efforts ivory-bill searchers have made to give the rest of us hope that what was thought lost may be hanging on. I want to believe the magnificent woodpeckers are still there even though the old-growth forests where their calls rang out are long gone.
Imperial Dreams: Tracking the Imperial Woodpecker through the Wild Sierra Madre details Gallagher’s pilgrimage to find the king of all woodpeckers in the wilds of Mexico. His dangerous scramble through the mountains, confronting bandits and drug traffickers, is an adventure that will put you in mind of Victorian explorers thrashing through the jungles of “darkest Africa.” He doesn’t find the imperial woodpecker, most certainly extinct, but he does find people living in the hills that remember the bird and keep it alive through their stories.
Imperial Dreams is more than a book about a bird hunt. It shows that Mexico is a country in tremendous turmoil, poised on the brink of greatness or complete disaster.
And The Grail Bird pointed out that despite heroic efforts to save the last remaining tract of old-growth forest where ivory-bills held their ground, the logging company that owned the land cut the trees down. It was just one bird, their attitude said.
Gallagher’s books make me wonder if we are just one bird away from losing all that’s precious and dear. But wonderful independent bookstores still survive to give us books that matter, just as the imperial woodpecker soars over the mountains in our dreams.