“Woman, Watching is an entrancing blend of biography, memoir, history, research, and homage that is unlike anything I’ve ever read. It’s radical, it’s ravishing.” — Kyo Maclear, author of Birds Art Life
From award-winning author Merilyn Simonds, a remarkable biography of an extraordinary woman — a Swedish aristocrat who survived the Russian Revolution to become an internationally renowned naturalist, one of the first to track the mid-century decline of songbirds.
Referred to as a Canadian Rachel Carson, Louise de Kiriline Lawrence lived and worked in an isolated log cabin near North Bay. After her husband was murdered by Bolsheviks, she refused her Swedish privilege and joined the Canadian Red Cross, visiting her northern Ontario patients by dogsled. When Elzire Dionne gave birth to five babies, Louise became nurse to the Dionne Quintuplets. Repulsed by the media circus, she retreated to her wilderness cabin, where she devoted herself to studying the birds that nested in her forest. Author of six books and scores of magazine stories, de Kiriline Lawrence and her “loghouse nest” became a Mecca for international ornithologists.
Lawrence was an old woman when Merilyn Simonds moved into the woods not far away. Their paths crossed, sparking Simonds’s lifelong interest. A dedicated birder, Simonds brings her own songbird experiences from Canadian nesting grounds and Mexican wintering grounds to this deeply researched, engaging portrait of a uniquely fascinating woman.
Simonds (The Convict Lover) excels in this beautifully written and moving biography of Louise de Kiriline Lawrence (1894–1992), a nature writer and distinguished Canadian ornithologist. Through a diligent analysis of Lawrence's correspondence, scrapbooks, research notes, and book drafts, Simonds recreates both her subject's inner life and considerable achievements. Lawrence was born in Sweden and served as a nurse for the Red Cross during WWI. She and her first husband, Gleb Kirilin, were imprisoned by the Bolsheviks during the Russian civil war—Kirilin, a Russian military officer, didn't survive, and when Lawrence was released, she immigrated to Canada, where she remarried and began keeping "meticulous records" of the birds she saw at her Ontario cabin. By the end of her first year she'd identified 73 species and had begun to write prolifically; she was eventually invited to join the prestigious (and male-dominated) American Ornithologists Union. Her nature writing received multiple awards, and she made crucial discoveries in the field of ornithology, setting a still-standing record for counting bird song and "pars the meaning of bird behaviour that scientists are only now proving to be true." Simonds's prose shines and brings the reader into the remarkable moments bird-watchers live for. This brilliant account does justice to a pioneering figure who merits wider recognition.