From the book jacket:
“Set against a spontaneous cross-country road trip following the migrating birds, this passionate, lyrical memoir is one woman’s reflections on midlife, her important personal relationships, her kaleidoscopic past, and her uncertain future.
To fifty-six-year-old Anne Batterson, a woman whose life has been filled with adventure — as a commercial pilot, an international skydiving champion, a trekking guide in Nepal — her husband’s decision to retire felt like a death sentence. Yearning for some way to reconcile herself to the future that was rapidly unfolding before her, she packed up her VW camper and hit the road with maps, bird guides, and little else except the desire to follow the fall migration and the bone-deep hunch that birds had something important to teach her.
In this beautifully written narrative of that extraordinary trip, Batterson writes movingly not only about her experiences with the birds but also about the people she loves, has lost, and connects with along the way. Events from the present trigger vivid stories from the past. In the chapter “The Journey Within the Journey,” a long, lonely night in a deserted campground in Virginia conjures up the ghosts of a desperate solo road trip she made when she was twenty-one. A towering cumulus cloud in Illinois brings back a breathtaking free fall into a similar cloud in “My Time as a Bird.” An encounter with a great blue heron summons a compelling account of her mother’s last afternoon in the world. “Bears in the Woods” describes a run-in with two Deliverance-type men in West Virginia, which brings back the murder of a dear friend in the woods of Connecticut.
By the end of the journey, the ghosts of the past, like the author herself, have become part of a more fluid, more spiritual reality — wild and spare and elegant and timeless — one that is always out there, “quickening on the far side of reality.”
A unique mix of memoir and nature writing, The Black Swan is a charming story of a woman’s odyssey.
“Batterson can dazzle with her adventurous and usually intrepid spirit… truly powerful.”
─ Kirkus Reviews
“A compelling, though quiet, memoir by a woman at midlife, this account may appeal to reading groups if it gets solid review coverage.”
─ Publishers Weekly
Amazon.com’s Best of 2001
‘It’s hard to believe this thoughtful memoir is Anne Batterson’s first book, so elegantly does she weave a chronicle of her five-week trip across America to observe migratory birds with recollections of the key people and moments in her life. Batterson was 56 when she took off from Connecticut on the journey she knew was quixotic, designed to stem her rising panic at her beloved second husband’s talk of leaving his post as an Episcopalian minister. “Retirement, he would try out over the dinner table,” she writes. “More time. Enough time… What I heard was: Hurry. Hurry. There’s no time.” Though she had behind her decades of adventure as a skydiver, pilot, and mountain trekker, Batterson still felt a keen need for risk-taking and solitude. With the blessings of her understanding spouse, David, she packed up her VW bus camper and took off. The present-tense narrative of her travels has a marvelous immediacy, from the lyrical (yet often slyly funny) descriptions of birdwatching, to emotional accounts of visits, to friends suffering their own midlife crises. Her past comes vibrantly to life in bravura passages capturing the thrill of skydiving (especially a terrifying jump in the middle of a lightning storm) and the pain of her failed first marriage to a flight instructor “who taught me how to loop the loop. Boy did he ever.” She comes home to David and the knowledge that her wanderlust makes her who she is. The book closes with Batterson admitting, “I’ve always wanted to go above the Arctic Circle,” as David laughs and she kisses the palm of his hand, murmuring, “God, I’m lucky.” Readers will feel just as lucky to have shared the experiences related here with such tenderness and hard-won wisdom.” Wendy Smith
“I am inside the cloud now, flying blind. I scan the drifting shadows for a sign, a flash of earth or sky, something that will tell me where I am. The altimeter mounted on my reserve parachute reads 3,500 feet. I tap the glass a few times to make sure the needle isn’t stuck. I look over at the red handle of my rip cord. “Not yet,” I tell myself. “Trust your instruments.” Just as my fingers fold around the cold metal grip, the ground smashes through the cloud, huge, brown, hard. Panicking, I fight the impulse to pull, knowing that this is the ground-rush effect, not the real thing; knowing too that I will end up landing in the trees if I open my parachute too high.
At 2,200 feet, I give a sharp yank and feel the pins slide out, the snap of my pack as it opens up. Arching back, I watch the small white pilot chute pop free over my head and catch the air. Attached to it, the red-white-and-blue sleeve of my parachute comes snaking out until it stands straight up like a candle. The weight of my falling body pulls the parachute out of the sleeve. It flowers slowly, uncupping delicately against the sky.
Although this particular moment happened more than thirty years ago, it remains, quite simply, the story of my life.”