For me to even pick up a book subtitled How Birds Can Change Your Life is noteworthy, never having had any interest whatsoever in birds, and in fact having a fear of them, but references on the jacket flap of Waiting for the Albino Dunnock to mythology, philosophy, history, literature, and folklore caused me to open it and I was captivated from the first page.
Rosamond Richardson writes with flair and sensitivity and with such knowledge of topics far beyond matters avian that her book is an engagingly multi-textured one and an example of nature writing at its best. She describes how a chance encounter led her to discover a fascination with birds which helped her at a difficult period in her life, but this is no confessional account of personal sadness - rather she is discreet and allusive - it is far more about seeing, observing, appreciating, understanding, and making connections, and about the enriching effect of a year of watching birds in East Anglia and far beyond.
When I was in Suffolk last autumn we went for a walk on Dunwich Heath, right next to the bird reserve at Minsmere. It was a very wet day and the keen birders in our party knew there would be little to see so they contented themselves with a ramble instead of a session with the binoculars, but even if conditions had been ideal nothing would have induced me to go and sit in a hide and try to spot birds (I did it once, years ago, and found it dull to say the least). But, having now read this book I would certainly join my bird-watching friends if an expedition were proposed, and I tell you this to illustrate the fact that Rosamond Richardson has opened my eyes and my mind, for which I thank her.
Let me sketch the map of the book for you in the hope that there will be territory here which draws you to it as it did me: the author writes of John Clare, Montaigne, Thomas Merton; she quotes Graham Greene, T.S. Eliot, Shakespeare, and G.K. Chesterton; her chapters are subtitled "stillness", "silence", "music", "joy", "the consolation of beauty", and "the uncommonness of the commonplace". She is discursive but always to the point; she brings to her discoveries "the beginner's mind" but retains a clear sense of perspective; her "personal crossroads" led her to find the extraordinary in the ordinary, but she doesn't rhapsodize, she speaks with quiet containment.
As to the book's title, it's inspired by R.S. Thomas, poet and priest, "who spent hours in wild landscapes in west Wales, watching for birds, never knowing whether he would see any or not". Alerted to the possible presence of an albino dunnock on the Lleyn Peninsula, "he muttered Waiting for birds is like waiting for God but I don't think I'd wait three hours for God." Rosamond Richardson closes thus: "the waiting is more about the search than the result [...] as much an inner journey as a field trip. Likewise 'waiting for the albino dunnock' is not about the achievement of spotting a rare bird and recording it on a list [...] but an intuition about what is mysterious and just beyond our reach".
I commend this book to you.