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The Meaning of Geese: A Thousand Miles in Search of Home

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The meaning of migration, it turns out, is more complex and downright epic than our group over-confidently supposed. In the UK he has worked on a huge range of projects for Norfolk Wildlife Trust, The Wildlife Trusts, Pensthorpe and others. Over seven months Nick cycles over 1,200 miles – the exact length of the pinkfeet’s migration to Iceland.

The Meaning of Geese is a book of thrilling encounters with wildlife, of tired legs, punctured tyres and inhospitable weather.

As two Sherpas ponder what to do next, their predicament triggers Daniell’s brilliantly tangential excursions into their state of mind, personal histories and aspirations.

That much is apparent in The Meaning of Geese, a charming account of a winter’s attritional goose-watching in north Norfolk. Nick now lives very close to his childhood home, in a little flint cottage by a duckpond on a North Norfolk village common.

It is a quiet book that celebrates these winter visitors and, at the same time, reveals something of the author and his approach to watching nature. Sebastián Martínez Daniell’s Two Sherpas ‘becomes a viewpoint from which we can see the whole world’. Over seven months, Nick cycles over 1,200 miles—the exact length of the pinkfeet's migration to Iceland. He helped coordinate Wetlands International's twice-yearly Latin American wetland bird census, ringed thousands of birds on their migration through Bolivia, and was part of a pioneering project to ring James's flamingos at their breeding site in the High Andes.

I emerged from the book with insights about the author, his wonderful home county, and - of course - of geese, but also a sense of calm and a reflection on my own priorities and self. This resonance is particularly strong for those birdwatchers, and others, who are rooted within the landscapes touched by these birds on their long migratory journeys. Twenty years on, Welsh’s auctioneer sleuth Rilke has another mystery to solve – his old mate washes up dead after tipping him off about a house clearance – but this time in a city pockmarked by Grindr, gentrification and a pandemic. That’s not to say that Acheson is not successful at painting word pictures of geese; his rich descriptions, full of food-related and sartorial metaphors, are proof of how much he revels in the company of birds. Thank you very much to the publisher and NetGalley for sending me an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

He meticulously details the geese’s arrival, observing what they mean to his beloved Norfolk and the role they play in local people’s lives – and what role the birds could play in our changing world. Nick Acheson is one such individual, and the significance of the pinks, brents and white-fronts that winter in his north Norfolk landscape is evident from his engaging and beautifully delivered text.

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