Late migrations : a natural history of love and loss

by Margaret Renkl

Other authorsBilly Renkl (Illustrator.)
Hardcover, 2019




Minneapolis : Milkweed Editions, 2019.


Family & Relationships. Nature. Nonfiction. HTML:From the New York Times columnist, a portrait of a family and the cycles of joy and grief that mark the natural world: "Has the makings of an American classic." �Ann Patchett Growing up in Alabama, Margaret Renkl was a devoted reader, an explorer of riverbeds and red-dirt roads, and a fiercely loved daughter. Here, in brief essays, she traces a tender and honest portrait of her complicated parents�her exuberant, creative mother; her steady, supportive father�and of the bittersweet moments that accompany a child's transition to caregiver. And here, braided into the overall narrative, Renkl offers observations on the world surrounding her suburban Nashville home. Ringing with rapture and heartache, these essays convey the dignity of bluebirds and rat snakes, monarch butterflies and native bees. As these two threads haunt and harmonize with each other, Renkl suggests that there is astonishment to be found in common things: in what seems ordinary, in what we all share. For in both worlds�the natural one and our own�"the shadow side of love is always loss, and grief is only love's own twin." Gorgeously illustrated by the author's brother, Billy Renkl, Late Migrations is an assured and memorable debut. "Magnificent . . . Readers will savor each page and the many gems of wisdom they contain." �Publishers Weekly (starred review.)… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member msf59
“My mother's grandparents went through the day in a kind of dance, preordained steps that took them away from each other—he to his rounds across the countryside, she to the closer world of clothesline and pea patch and barn, but brought them back together again and again, touching for just a
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moment before moving away once more.”

“Sitting on that front porch in the heat of an Alabama summer, with grasshoppers buzzing in the ag fields just across the road and bluebirds swooping off the fence posts to snatch them up, I considered the alternate future he was laying before me: a life of poems. It was a lifeline to a life.”

Renkl grew up in rural Alabama, surrounded by a loving tight-knit family. As an adult she relocated to the Nashville area. In these brief essays or vignettes, if you will, Renkl mines her life, examining the loss and grief, of her family members and the solace she finds in the beauty of the natural world. Either through her love of birds, butterflies, or a sun-drenched meadow.
There are also a smattering of gorgeous illustrations, by her brother, Billy, which makes the print book a necessity. Fans of H is For Hawk, Terry Tempest Williams, nature, poetry and wonderful prose, should pick up this book.
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LibraryThing member ecataldi
Poetic, somber, jubilant, heart-wrenching, and beautiful; this collection of short essays from Margaret Renkl is a must read. Essays about the nature in her backyard, history of her grandparents, her childhood, her parents, motherhood, and migratory patterns of birds. This collection encompasses
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love and loss through a personal and natural lens. Interspersed throughout are beautiful color images of animals and plants. A deeply touching and deeply personal memoir of sorts. One that readers will come back to time and again.
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LibraryThing member banjo123
This book is a memoir, I think, told in a series of mini-essays about family, birds, nature, and grieving. Renkl's brother contributed the illustrations, which are lovely. Here are some parts that I marked:

In "Imperfect-Family Beatitudes" she ends with "Blessed are the parents whose final words on
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leaving--the house, the care, the least consequential phone call--are always "I love you." THey will leave behind children who are lost and still found, broken and somehow, still whole."

"One evening I looked out, and there in the growing twilight was a male scarlet tanager taking a drink. I had never seen one in this yard before, and I have not seen one since. But I think often of that beautiful bird, of the few seconds I could stand at my window and watch him taking drink of water in the gloaming. To me he looked like a blood-red, hollow-boned embodiment of grace.
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LibraryThing member kayanelson
This will probably end up being my favorite book of 2020. Observation--that is what this book is about. Observation about family and nature. Love and loss. Wow--read this
LibraryThing member hemlokgang
What a moving collection of observations, memories, stories, and feelings of love and loss! The author weaves brief vignettes about nature and family to create a lush, literary tapestry which wraps itself around the reader like a cocoon. Nature's events and life events co-mingle, becoming one.
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Margaret Renkl has used poetic prose to capture the essence and power of love and loss in our lives. Anyone who has loved and lost loved ones will resonate to these vignettes. Take your time, absorb the beauty and truth of each essay, and carry these words with you through your days.
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LibraryThing member pegmcdaniel
A friend read this book and left a glowing review so I decided to read it. I absolutely loved it! It's a debut book by Margaret Renkl who is a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times where her essays appear weekly. Late Migrations is a memoir of essays that anyone can relate to no matter
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where in their life they may be.

Reading this book was like taking a trip with Margaret as she told us bits of her life while growing up in Alabama to becoming a wife, mother, and caregiver to her parents and in-laws. She writes about love, an imperfect but beloved family life, caregiving, loss and grief, fear, and motherhood. She cares so much and is very knowledgeable about nature. She tells us about her interactions with birds, bees, butterflies, flowers, and snakes. She sees the beauty in things that most of us ignore.

I was moved by her beautiful, poetic writing which held a lot of meaning for me. I read the hardcopy so I could see the gorgeous illustrations done by her brother, Billy Renkl. So much talent in this sister and brother team! Highly recommended with 5 Stars.
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LibraryThing member JulieStielstra
I regularly read Renkl's columns in the New York Times, mostly for her celebratory observations of the natural world in her yard. She watches, admires, and loves the birds, snakes, rabbits, and bugs inhabiting her half-acre of suburban Nashville, where her yard is runnelled with mole trails,
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riotous with dandelions and clover ("You're planting clover?" her neighbor asks incredulously), and occupied by dozens of birds and a rat snake "as thick as [my] arm." My kind of woman.

This book is a collection of short essays, some only a couple of paragraphs, assembling stories, memories, and experiences from her childhood in red-dirt Alabama to middle age and the departure of children from home and the loss of her own parents. Renkl is a fine, fluid writer, and her sensibilities for the living creation around her are awestruck and loving. When someone inquires "So you're a trained naturalist?" she must admit no, she's a Googler. But she declares: "the flip side of ignorance is astonishment, and I am good at astonishment." And she astonishes us, with a loveliness of ladybugs, a piebald fawn who appears on cue, the resurrection of a caterpillar, the death of a window-stunned cedar waxwing. These pieces are interspersed with intensely painful ones of aging, weakening, torturously ill, and dying family members; her own depressions and terrors; and grief. So much grief. It ends on a note of hope, as the monarch butterflies she has tried hard to attract make a late, unexpected appearance, weighing down the zinnias she has left standing in the yard. All told, the themes of life and loss and death weave throughout all the pieces, nature and human-focused, but the human misery rather weighs down the natural joy.

The writing is beautiful; the collage-like, almost Durer-esque illustrations by Margaret's gifted brother Billy are elegant and lovely. Still, the tone of the book may be exemplified by the exchange Renkl has with her disapproving neighbor about the clover. She explains she plants the clover for the honeybees. The neighbor tells her about a swarm of bees she saw recently, "a big ball of bees up in the crepe myrtle next to the garbage cans. It took a whole can of Raid to kill them."
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LibraryThing member dele2451
Just as the backyard orb weaver deftly spins and recreates her web, Renkl beautifully intertwines the cycle of life playing out in her suburban neighborhood's landscape with the one happening inside her own aging family. A lovely, honest read.
LibraryThing member WiserWisegirl
Beautifully written. The soul of a nature lover is revealed. Messages of hope and survival during the process of mourning are not gloomy, but feel like the words of a wise friend. I enjoyed the layout that included beautiful drawings and succinct chapters with short thoughts and observations about
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people and the world around us.
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LibraryThing member CarltonC
A book of brief chapters, stories, anecdotes, about a family’s life and loss.
Written by someone from Alabama and Tennessee, so that much of the wildlife is alien to me, but the clarity of the observations are easily transferable to my neck of the woods and joyful to read.
LibraryThing member franoscar
I liked this a lot and plan to read the author's other books. I liked reading the stories about nature, and the stories about her family.
LibraryThing member m.belljackson
Just like The Comfort of Crows, Late Migrations dives right into deaths of animals
followed by the "pond is dying" - the starling hanging itself, dead dog...

WE GET IT! Without Death, there is no Life, yet do readers need to know this on every other page?!?

How about trying: Let's Love and Enjoy Life
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Without the constant reminders of Death...?

She shows compassion only for certain creatures.
She does not lower herself to the soil to try to comprehend the beauty and insights of the rest.
She offers nothing for the mealworms who tuck themselves around her fingers,
hoping she will save them from her determined fate.

I gave up with their dead cockatiel pet and skimmed the balance of the rest: "monstrous in death...."
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