Going to the Birds


“Aware of Birds”: Analogies and Environmentalism


Rob Nixon advises environmental writers who wish to communicate the slow pace of natural degradation to inspire affective shifts in their readers to “Reconfigure big stories on a human scale” and “Find powerful analogies that resonate” (par 10 & 13). In his article, “For the Birds,” David Gessner makes good on Nixon’s advice.  Throughout his piece, Gessner opens up a space for his audience to grieve for the general loss of birds and bird habitats by connecting his specific emotional response to the potential demise of Atlantic Puffins. Gessner’s first encounter with a Puffin was for him, “a invitation to a new world, and a new way of thinking about this one” (par 2). That is to say the figure of the Puffin, in this text, reoriented his point of view from “…anthropocentrism to biocentrism” (par 9). His shift in perspective is analogous to the larger shift in social thinking, he argues, Peterson’s A Field Guide to the Birds initiated. Peterson’s Guide encouraged readers to look at and interact with living birds and bird habitats. Because the guide enabled a closeness between bird watchers and birds, authors such as Douglas Carson and Douglas Clapp, argue Peterson can be credited with starting the modern environmental movement: “‘Those field guides opened a door, and culturally all of America walked through it. By becoming aware of birds, we essentially opened up all of our environmental thinking'” (par 7). In his article Gessner also “opens a door” for readers by exploring the analogy between his personal changes and the shifts in environmental/scientific thinking.  The loss of the animals resonates with readers because Gessner figures his experience as analogous to both larger social forces and our own.


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