The Meaning of Geese: A Thousand Miles in Search of Home

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The Meaning of Geese: A Thousand Miles in Search of Home

The Meaning of Geese: A Thousand Miles in Search of Home

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Their fluctuations, their vexed taxonomies, the “fractal complexity” of their flocks, their skill at whiffling, in which they perform aeronautical body rolls when coming in to land. I saw Nick Acheson speak at New Networks for Nature 2021 as the ‘anti-’ voice in a debate on ecotourism. The meaning of migration, it turns out, is more complex and downright epic than our group over-confidently supposed. Mainly written as a diary of Acheson’s daily discoveries and sightings during 2020-2021 this format worked really well. Thank you very much to the publisher and NetGalley for sending me an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

It is good to be made aware of how interlinked we are across the globe by migration and also by the internet so that geese experts can easily talk to one another. This resonance is particularly strong for those birdwatchers, and others, who are rooted within the landscapes touched by these birds on their long migratory journeys. Framed by living alone during lockdown, the narrative reveals a broader community of goose enthusiasts, drawn together by a fascination for these winter visitors, both common and rare. The Covid-19 lockdowns spawned a number of nature books in the UK and, although the pandemic is not a major element here, one does get a sense of how Acheson struggled with isolation as well as the normal winter blues and found comfort and purpose in birdwatching.Mostly I read a hardback library book and got lost in his descriptions of geese, the people from his life and his story.

But The Second Cut is as blackly comic as it is squalid and Welsh balances all the storylines with ease. At the risk of reviewing the book I wanted to read rather than the book it is; The Meaning of Geese is billed on the cover as a personal account, but I felt no closer to the author by the final chapter than I had at the start.Nick has through his knowledge, passion and detailed descriptions put a winter visit firmly back onto the agenda.

From his home in Norfolk, he has since had the privilege of working with wildlife and people on every continent. Whether on his own or with friends and experts, and in fair weather or foul, he became obsessed with spending as much time observing geese as he could – even six hours at a stretch. There are several interesting themes running through the book - the impact of climate change, hunting, geese in the creative imagination, conservation - but the diary format prevents these from being developed.I enjoyed every line of his writing, I felt that Norfolk cold along those narrow roads and the tremendous feeling when watching geese whiffling at Holkham. He is a committed campaigner on the environment, living as sustainably as is possible and contributing to a number of environmental initiatives, including Low Carbon Birding.

That much is apparent in The Meaning of Geese, a charming account of a winter’s attritional goose-watching in north Norfolk. The pandemic gave Acheson fallow time to mount his rickety bike and scope Norfolk for the “thousands of lives brought here by wind, genes, instinct and the planet’s axial tilt”. Pink-footed geese descend on the Holkham Estate in their thousands, but there were smaller flocks and rarer types as well: from Canada and greylag to white-fronted and snow geese. He then explains how during COVID he decided to follow Norfolk’s geese on his bike over the 2020-2021 winter.Nick now lives very close to his childhood home, in a little flint cottage by a duckpond on a North Norfolk village common. To honour the geese’s great athletic migrations, Nick kept a diary of his sightings as well as the stories he discovered through the community of people, past and present, who loved them, too. in environmental change and management, both at the University of Oxford, Nick travelled to Bolivia for three months, to participate in a study of austral migrant birds.

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