A Catalog of Birds centres around a small 1970 ’ s community in the Finger Lakes region of New York state, an area known for its series of shor, hin, deep glacial lakes, it ’ s high gorges and dramatic waterfalls ( and today its wineries) .Despite its natural beauty, this community is affected, as every other is and has been, by the shadow of war, of young men returning from Vietnam, lost lov, a lost innocence.The Flynn family ’ s son Billy has just returned, his body covered in burns, his right arm mangled, his hearing disturbed, after surviving a helicopter crash.
hinking of Billy, that horrible hospital, all those wrecked young men and boys.
Both of them in the rip of something: anticipation, fear, the unknown.Billys field journalThe early pages from Vietnam alternate between scenes on the base: insects, common birds, sketches of his crew; and pages where he was off the base: acres of green, rice paddies, water buffalo.
Page after page: birds, trees, fields, burning.Billy and his ounger sister Nell have a close elationship, they know the surrounding lakes and forests like no other, they are connected to their natural environment in a way that even a highly educated academic specialising in the birds they know so well, had much to learn from.Esme, 45 yr old ornithologistOver the years Billy taught Esme a new ay to listen, showed her how birds organise their communication, how to read body language between pairs, the eaning of their back-and-forth chat, how they check in on each other, the various warning sounds.Nell Billy 's journals are the hread of their childhood; his coming into his own as a aturalist, as an rtist, developing his eye, his and, his deepening identification with birds.
From sketching in the field to detailed study, to painting the portraits he began to make the year before he shipped out.Both Billy ’ s father Jack and his best friend Harlow, also bear and have borne the hardship of the return from war, they cope in their own pat, as has Marion, Jack ’ s mother, waiting out the long semi-recovery, which in the lat yea, tests every man who dares survive war ’ s dark parasitic claim to their sanity.
Now they must watch Billy go through the same test.Harlow MurphyOn good days he fell right into a rhythm of forgetting, found a girl not quite so dedicated to her antiwar stance she 'd forego sleeping with a vet, and then drank enough to numb his nightmares.
Shamed to hear the words out loud. " Just love him. " He looks at his daughter again,, wishes it were enough, wishes he did n't know the limits of love and ope, how little, really, can be covered over, hidden away, made whole.Nell is too young to remember her father ’ s return from war, her memories are of the good times she had with her daughter and his acquaintances, of the mysteriou sadness that engulf her, of the terrible understandin of things she knows about Megan, of a esperation to protect her cousi, to save his drawings, to bring him back to where he was, when they would go out on the ake, sit in among the trees, listen to birdsong, recognise their warnings, to just be.Nell Something lifts in Nell, hearing her brother laugh like that.
But it does n't look like that 's ever gon na happen again.Billy He flirts with driving so fast she 'll be scared into telling him the truth, a truth he probably already knows.
He looks at Nell, thinks of how he kept Harlow away from her, but still took what he wanted with Megan.