Audubon’s Predatory Eye

Dean Flower at The Hudson Review:

The focus of Audubon at Sea is indicated by its subtitle: The Coastal and Transatlantic Adventures of John James Audubon. It argues that he was never so comfortable at sea as he was on land when “collecting”—i.e., shooting—his specimens. Seabirds were harder to see up close, we are told; they are more elusive and maddening to approach, hence more enigmatic than land birds, at home in environments life-threatening to us. They were also uniquely disturbing to Audubon, the book’s editors Christoph Irmscher and Richard J. King argue, in their sheer abundance. They claim Audubon had no previous experience of such massive flocks, darkening the sky and crowding every inch of their breeding grounds, their guano heaped up like snow, filling the air with their deafening cries and vile stench. So there is a wry twist in the title’s phrase “at sea” (i.e., lost or confused) and in the subtitle’s “Adventures” (as if they were light-hearted!), which turn out to be—especially toward the end—when the story ventures into arctic waters and the terra incognita of Labrador—stories of seasickness, horrific gales, desolate wilderness, relentless rain and cold, with everything made worse by the depredations of men.

more here.