Now revered as one of North America's top birders, Kenn Kaufman hit the road at age sixteen and spent a year crisscrossing the country to see as many birds as he could, in a birding competition known as a "big year." In what has become a classic among birders, this memoir chronicles the subculture of birding in the 1970s and a teenager's search for his place in the world. In a new afterword, Kaufman looks at the evolution of bird-listing since his own big year.
At age sixteen, Kenn Kaufman left home to travel the world in search of birds. Now a grown man and a renowned ornithologist, he has come back to visit his ailing mother and explain to her what drove his obsession with bird life. His explanation forms a series of interlocking tales from the frontier where the world of birds intersects with the world of the humans who pursue them. The stories range over settings from Alaska to Africa, from trackless jungles to parking lots. They delve into subjects from first dates to last rites, from imagination and desire to sleep deprivation, from poignant encounters with eternal mysteries to comical brushes with biker gangs and secret agents. But as the stories unfold, the ornithologist comes to realize that he can still learn from his mother some things about life and even about the meaning of birds.
Flights Against the Sunset brings together nineteen essays, mostly adapted from Kaufman's long-running column in Bird Watcher's Digest. They weave an original story that examines how we communicate about our passions with those who do not share the same interests and how to celebrate the world of infinite possibilities and wonder.