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I've Heard the Vultures Singing: Field Notes on Poetry, Illness, and Nature

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During her days as a park ranger, Lucia Perillo loved nothing more than to brave the Cascade Mountains alone, taking special pride in her daring solo skis down the raw, unpatrolled slopes of Mount Rainier. Then, in her thirties, she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. In I've Heard the Vultures Singing, Perillo confronts, in stark but funny terms, the ironies of being s During her days as a park ranger, Lucia Perillo loved nothing more than to brave the Cascade Mountains alone, taking special pride in her daring solo skis down the raw, unpatrolled slopes of Mount Rainier. Then, in her thirties, she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. In I've Heard the Vultures Singing, Perillo confronts, in stark but funny terms, the ironies of being someone with her history and gusto for life being suddenly unable to walk. ("Ground-truthing" is what biologists call entering an environment and surveying what is there via the senses of sight and sound.) These essays explore what it’s like to experience desire as a sick person, how to lower one’s expectations just enough for a wilderness experience, and how to navigate the vagaries of a disease that has no predictable trajectory. I've Heard the Vultures Singing records in unflinching, honest prose one woman’s struggle to find her place in a difficult new world.


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During her days as a park ranger, Lucia Perillo loved nothing more than to brave the Cascade Mountains alone, taking special pride in her daring solo skis down the raw, unpatrolled slopes of Mount Rainier. Then, in her thirties, she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. In I've Heard the Vultures Singing, Perillo confronts, in stark but funny terms, the ironies of being s During her days as a park ranger, Lucia Perillo loved nothing more than to brave the Cascade Mountains alone, taking special pride in her daring solo skis down the raw, unpatrolled slopes of Mount Rainier. Then, in her thirties, she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. In I've Heard the Vultures Singing, Perillo confronts, in stark but funny terms, the ironies of being someone with her history and gusto for life being suddenly unable to walk. ("Ground-truthing" is what biologists call entering an environment and surveying what is there via the senses of sight and sound.) These essays explore what it’s like to experience desire as a sick person, how to lower one’s expectations just enough for a wilderness experience, and how to navigate the vagaries of a disease that has no predictable trajectory. I've Heard the Vultures Singing records in unflinching, honest prose one woman’s struggle to find her place in a difficult new world.

30 review for I've Heard the Vultures Singing: Field Notes on Poetry, Illness, and Nature

  1. 4 out of 5

    Beth

    As someone who is also dealing with a disease with no predictable trajectory, I was amazed and enthralled by "I've Heard the Vultures Singing." Lucia Perillo's story is a sad yet inspiring confession of someone now trapped in a wheelchair and struggling to life of exploration despite her limitations. I found her own experiences and reminiscences, and references to other scholars, were both recognizable and comforting. How we cope with being less than we were yet still all that can be is a challe As someone who is also dealing with a disease with no predictable trajectory, I was amazed and enthralled by "I've Heard the Vultures Singing." Lucia Perillo's story is a sad yet inspiring confession of someone now trapped in a wheelchair and struggling to life of exploration despite her limitations. I found her own experiences and reminiscences, and references to other scholars, were both recognizable and comforting. How we cope with being less than we were yet still all that can be is a challenge, and the author seems to have learned to manage it with grace if not glee.

  2. 5 out of 5

    rosamund

    Lucia Perillo worked as a park ranger before she discovered she had multiple sclerosis. Though no longer able to walk, she wanted to remain in touch with nature, however difficult that might be. This collection of essays chronicles her frustration with her disability, as well as her affection for nature. She also writes about the experience of being a working poet, and how her identity as a poet is shaped by becoming disabled. These essays are full Perillo's anger at the difficulties of her life Lucia Perillo worked as a park ranger before she discovered she had multiple sclerosis. Though no longer able to walk, she wanted to remain in touch with nature, however difficult that might be. This collection of essays chronicles her frustration with her disability, as well as her affection for nature. She also writes about the experience of being a working poet, and how her identity as a poet is shaped by becoming disabled. These essays are full Perillo's anger at the difficulties of her life and her struggle to claim an identity that she feels comfortable with. They also demonstrate her connection with the natural world, and how one can remain in touch with nature even when forced to remain in suburbia. They are about the liminal spaces where nature touches urban life, and how humans encroach on nature. Though I sometimes found this collection repetitive, overall it was a refreshing glimpse into Perillo's unapologetic, angry approach to life.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Leslie

    I've been a fan of this poet for some time, so it's with some sadness (learning of her struggle here with multiple sclerosis), but mostly great delight in her humor, her eye for natural detail that I look over her shoulder in this fine book of personal essays. I especially admired "Fear of the Market" for its take on the oddities of the market for literary poetry. I've been a fan of this poet for some time, so it's with some sadness (learning of her struggle here with multiple sclerosis), but mostly great delight in her humor, her eye for natural detail that I look over her shoulder in this fine book of personal essays. I especially admired "Fear of the Market" for its take on the oddities of the market for literary poetry.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Jane

    These essays are extraordinary. I wrote to a friend and artist who set herself the goal of painting a still life of an object in her home every day for the month of January. "I'm just finishing a book called I've Heard the Vultures Singing by Lucia Perillo. They are essays of fierce attention...to bats, bird song, fish. Oh the millions of bird songs, each one so specific and hard to describe...but she attempts to do exactly that, with help from other naturalists who have also tried. What you hav These essays are extraordinary. I wrote to a friend and artist who set herself the goal of painting a still life of an object in her home every day for the month of January. "I'm just finishing a book called I've Heard the Vultures Singing by Lucia Perillo. They are essays of fierce attention...to bats, bird song, fish. Oh the millions of bird songs, each one so specific and hard to describe...but she attempts to do exactly that, with help from other naturalists who have also tried. What you have done for the past month has the same quality of attention to shape, color, texture, to the essence of an object. I love them." The author had been diagnosed with MS and was confined to a wheel chair. She had worked earlier as a forest ranger and botanist. She is also a renowned poet. Her collections have won prizes and carry that same attention to the world. I want to copy the chapter on birds and have it to read and reread. Here's a passage that delivers her frustration And her determination. She is motoring along the street to listen to the "Bat Guy" share more specifics about the bats who live near her neighborhood in Portland, Oregon. And older woman is with her, pointing out and naming every single wild flower they see on their walk. "How I irk her by never being able to accept what's presented as good enough. The point of these knowledge games (knowing flower species, knowing bat species, knowing bird songs) is: "to have the NOW get large." "But you can't know everything," I say...not even about one moment. Not every single species along the road. Not all the trees in the field of view." "No harm in trying," she says. "As long as you're stuck in one place, you might as well try to get to know it as well as you can." Lucia is disgruntled because the aging friend can no longer lift her in and out of her chair, so she won't be able to lay on the grass and see the bats when they reach the Bat man. But the book is testimony that she spends the rest of her life trying. I love that she rages against the ways in which she can't know the world because she is confined to a chair. Most of the book is an ode to the wonders she can experience, can see. And the way people, her husband especially, understand and try to help her gain access to what feels inaccessible. In another section, Lucia is reading and writing about Marianne Moore, who love the American west and went to Mt. Rainier to explore. On her second trip west, Perillo is surprised to read that she didn't even go to Mt. Rainier. The mountain wasn't what she wanted, though I don't understand it--how a healthy woman could NOT want the mountain. But she was content to study it from a rented cabin sixty miles away as she devoted herself to the geography she was most passionate about, the landscape of her poem. The writing is impeccable. I'll read this book again.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Eva Silverfine

    I came across this essay collection by an accomplished poet at a book fair. I knew nothing about the author. The title and design and muted tones of the cover induced me to pick it up. What I found was honest reflections by someone whose life had become circumscribed by multiple sclerosis but continued to push to experience the aspects of life she had come to love—poetry and nature. Her honesty about dealing with the limitations of her body, her interactions with other people, and her own needs I came across this essay collection by an accomplished poet at a book fair. I knew nothing about the author. The title and design and muted tones of the cover induced me to pick it up. What I found was honest reflections by someone whose life had become circumscribed by multiple sclerosis but continued to push to experience the aspects of life she had come to love—poetry and nature. Her honesty about dealing with the limitations of her body, her interactions with other people, and her own needs as an individual is the strength of the collection.

  6. 5 out of 5

    David

    A profound and moving series of essays.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Deb

    Damn. I picked this book up because I was so taken with Inseminating the Elephant (her last book of poetry) and I had to read more about Perillo. I'm so glad I did. The only trouble is that I got it from the library, and I want to keep it. Perillo is honest, funny, inventive, surprising, shocking. Not one whit is shy or repressed or coy. Damn. I picked this book up because I was so taken with Inseminating the Elephant (her last book of poetry) and I had to read more about Perillo. I'm so glad I did. The only trouble is that I got it from the library, and I want to keep it. Perillo is honest, funny, inventive, surprising, shocking. Not one whit is shy or repressed or coy.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Kasey Jueds

    Things I loved about this book: Lucia Perillo's sense of humor (smart, dry, edgy); her ability to be funny about generally serious, unfunny subjects (disability, poetry); her ability to move so effortlessly between those subjects, and to tie them together so thoughtfully and seamlessly. The last essay was my favorite; I can see rereading it over and over. Things I loved about this book: Lucia Perillo's sense of humor (smart, dry, edgy); her ability to be funny about generally serious, unfunny subjects (disability, poetry); her ability to move so effortlessly between those subjects, and to tie them together so thoughtfully and seamlessly. The last essay was my favorite; I can see rereading it over and over.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Denise

    Beautiful. Sad, profound, exceptionally well-written. (I like it when poets write prose!) Lots of post-it notes in this one by the time I was done with it, for beautiful language. But, I should warn you, feeling pretty vulnerable afterward, too!

  10. 4 out of 5

    Abby Howell

    The author and poet, Lucia Perillo, writes her mediation on what it is like to have advanced multiple schlerosis. She is cranky, odd, and thoroughly real. She lives near Olympia, Washington I believe and she made me want to visit all the places she mentions in the book. Very well written.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Eli Brooke

    Love. Her.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Sandra

    Perillo has MS and her writing is amazing.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Ann

    Perillo is one of my favorite poets. Her essays are excellent. But I should have read the book over a longer period of time. Like a slow food banquet, not like the binge I indulged in.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Jeremy Sierra

    Most people in my class liked this book quite a bit. A little too self pitying for me, and the poetic flourishes struck me as ridiculous about as often as they worked.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Josephine Ensign

    A lovely and powerful book, the reading of which was made more poignant by the recent death of the author from the illness (MS) that is a main thread.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Diane

    Turns out vultures don't sing. A humbling book, good to read if/when you're feeling sorry for yourself. Turns out vultures don't sing. A humbling book, good to read if/when you're feeling sorry for yourself.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Mary

    Brilliant discussion of health, life, illness and the sport of living. Oh, and poetry!!!

  18. 4 out of 5

    Melanie Jennings

    A searing book about illness. A must read for anyone interested in illness as a metaphor.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Carolyn

  20. 4 out of 5

    Emily

  21. 4 out of 5

    Catherine

  22. 4 out of 5

    Melanie

    I was most struck by her reading of Marianne Moore's poem about a glacier, and her own observations of the same glacier, now much smaller because of global warming. Some of her observations and experiences of the difficulties of going from able-bodied to physically handicapped were brutal to read. Such honesty, especially about activities that remained pleasurable, but changed drastically. Damn. She died too soon. I was most struck by her reading of Marianne Moore's poem about a glacier, and her own observations of the same glacier, now much smaller because of global warming. Some of her observations and experiences of the difficulties of going from able-bodied to physically handicapped were brutal to read. Such honesty, especially about activities that remained pleasurable, but changed drastically. Damn. She died too soon.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Dani

  24. 5 out of 5

    Renee

  25. 4 out of 5

    Suzanne Cohen

  26. 4 out of 5

    Carol

  27. 4 out of 5

    Larisa

  28. 4 out of 5

    Kj

  29. 5 out of 5

    Amy

  30. 4 out of 5

    Simeon Berry

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