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TraveLit--A blog about travel literature. 

     Even with the best of maps and instruments, we can never fully chart our journeys.

Review: Owls of the Eastern Ice

Owls of the Eastern Ice: A Quest to Find and Save the World's Largest Owl

By Jonathan C. Slaght.  Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2020, 349 pp. (Kindle Edition)


In an interview published in the Guardian, Jonathan C. Slaght said that if you googled "Blakiston's Fish Owl," his photo would come up.  I decided to try it—and there he was, embracing a large, hairy bird, a member of an endangered species that Slaght is doing his best to save.  Both of them looked pretty fierce.


Ferocity—or at least a fair amount of toughness—is surely an asset for any animal negotiating the wild region of Russia where Slaght conducted his 5-year Ph.D. research project studying fish owls.  The Primorye province, probably best known as home to the Amur tiger, is an area of dense mountains, brutal winters, and dangerous springtimes, when frozen rivers suddenly break up into fast currents. 


After watching a deer succumb to the rushing waters, Slaght reflects on the "quiet violence" of the place: "Primeval dichotomies still outlined existence on the Samarga [river]: hungry or satiated, frozen or flowing, living or dead.  A slight deviation could tip the scales from one state of being to the other…The line between life and death here could be measured in the thickness of river ice."


Slaght fell in love with the Primorye when he first saw it at the age of 19, and by the start of his research in 2005-6, he was already familiar with the region from subsequent visits and three years residence while in the Peace Corps.  Read More 

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