A young field scientist and conservationist tracks the Blakiston's Fish Owl in the forbidding reaches of eastern Russia, where he spendt five years following the elusive bird among the eccentric locals.
... engaging ... Deep in the woods it gets strange, and Slaght’s tireless search for owls is relieved by entertaining accounts of eccentric recluses, hunters and mystical hermits ... Mostly this is a book about the rigors of fieldwork, about cohabitating in close quarters, being stranded for weeks by storms, floods and melting ice, rejiggering strategies, 'aching' immobility, malfunctioning equipment and various other misfortunes, all vividly rendered. Slaght knows this life, but he has never burrowed so deep into its dark, silent heart ... Slaght has spent so much of his life waiting that waiting has long since evolved into a Zen-like state of noticing, of presence. Keeping us tucked close, we discover what it feels like to become aware of every little thing, to fully inhabit a living landscape. For this reason and others, this is an unusual (and welcome) book for our times ... It is a testament to his talents as a writer-researcher that we appreciate why Slaght loves it here. The primal forces of the Primorye have drawn him close to his essence; to his strengths and vulnerabilities — to his impermanence. There is peace and healing to be found in such a life, and perhaps just the right balance for his soul.
Mr. Slaght’s book is a stellar example of the fruitful intersection of scientific inquiry, conservation advocacy and wilderness adventure. It belongs to a rare species of nature writing in which facts are delivered with both exactitude and storytelling panache ... Owls is replete with the narrative excitements of serious stakes, daunting challenges and disappointing setbacks, from blizzards, roadblocks and frigid nocturnal vigils on icy riverbanks to technological failures, dangerously thin spring ice, and an exhausting, overly loquacious field assistant. But it is also leavened by humorous profiles of Mr. Slaght’s changing crew of roving researchers and the eccentric, heavy-drinking fishermen, hunters, loggers, hermits and outlaws they meet ... His enthusiastic reporting encompasses both the local color and the colorful locals.
Slaght has a rare gift for startling evocations of the natural world ... Primoye is a remarkable place, and Slaght’s passion for it is palpable; his fascination with fish owls, too, the reader quickly understands and shares. But I can’t help feeling that the real subject of this book is neither forests nor owls, but fieldwork ... Slaght is a wonderful guide to the reality of fieldwork, a pursuit marked by tests and tribulations that will inspire and drain you, corrode your faith and devotion to your cause, induce vast mood-swings that range from despair to dizzying elation, and that requires a suite of personal and practical skills far from those of a lab-bound scientist. His quest has deep moral, as well as personal significance ... Unlike much current nature writing, Owls of the Eastern Ice does not treat encounters with wild creatures as opportunities for the writer to explore their own emotional and psychological landscape, or to kick-start a discussion of literature, philosophy or social history. In this regard, Slaght’s book is refreshingly old-school, a tautly strung adventure featuring not just the narrator, but his co-workers, his crew. These men crowd the pages fabulously[.]