THE COMFORT OF CROWS
A Backyard Year
By: Margaret Renkl
Illustrations by Billy Renkl
Published: October 24, 2023
Publisher: Spiegel & Grau
Nature lover and self-proclaimed backyard enthusiast Margaret Renkl has joined with her brother Billy to create a series of essays and illustrations taking a reader through a year of birds, animals, plants, and insects in her backyard. With 52 essays, readers will travel through the seasons week by week as the buds arrive on the trees, the birds visit the feeders, or the day it is time to rake the fallen leaves.
Renkl’s backyard in Tennessee may be different from mine, but I still found comfort in the joy of my first robin sighting in late winter as she talked about robins working the ground for worms. Even though our temperatures may not completely match up, our seasons do and I found comfort in her musings on life in her backyard.
Renkl also mentions another season in her essays, the season of empty nesting. I have entered this new season of life as well and I found her words about the quiet house and “nesting in reverse”, giving away and cleaning out rooms and closets of grown children, to be a reminder to find the peace and joy of living in this new season.
I imagine Renkl’s backyard to be full of blooms in the summer and birds visiting her feeders year-round. Maybe a deer walking by or a squirrel burying an acorn for winter but always some sort of activity. Her detailed descriptions offer an image to appear in my mind and the illustrations by her brother at the end of every essay offer a beautiful wrapup to the week.
I related to Renkl’s statement, “So much of what I do in the yard is only ever an exercise in hope“. In the fall I plant a bulb with the hope it will push up and bloom in the spring. This summer, I hung out a new hummingbird feeder in the hopes of attracting them. They didn’t stop by this year, but there is hope again for next year.
For nature lovers, those entering a new season of life, or those who enjoy the beauty of their surroundings, I highly recommend this quiet book of weekly reflections. Who doesn’t have a few minutes each week to pause and reflect on the beauty of a sunset or the joy of a bird catching a worm? Renkel shares how they passed on their regular dishes to their sons and now eat on their wedding dishes for the first time as empty nesters in their quiet house. What kind of simple beauty can be added to your day?
Shop early for holidays and birthdays as I believe this is a wonderful gift idea. The author’s final paragraph states her hope for those who read her book:
“It is my dearest hope that you will do the same for your own wild neighbors. Rejoice and grieve. Do your best to help. Bear witness when you can’t. Remember the crows, who tell us that we belong to one another, and to them.”
Step outside and stop, ponder, and listen to the sounds and see the beauty of your own backyard, a local park, or a neighbor’s flower garden. If you wait for the perfect day, you might just miss something beautiful.
Margaret Renkl is the author of Late Migrations: A Natural History of Love and Loss (2019) and Graceland, At Last: Notes On Hope and Heartache from the American South. Her new book, The Comfort of Crows, A Backyard Year, will be published in October 2023. She is also a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times, where her essays appear each Monday. A graduate of Auburn University and the University of South Carolina, she lives in Nashville. Learn more at her website, HERE.