The Wise Hours

A Journey into the Wild and Secret World of Owls

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Pub Date 07 Feb 2023 | Archive Date 31 Jan 2023
Tin House, Tin House Books

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One minute I was sipping my tea by the window. There was nothing but the palest edge of grey light and a wisp of steam from my cup—and then a shadow swooped out of the air. With the lightest of scratches, as if the dawn light was solidifying into life, there it was, perched like an exclamation mark on the balcony: an owl, come to my home.

Owls have existed for over sixty million years, and in the relatively short time we have shared the planet with these majestic birds they have ignited the human imagination. But even as owls continue to captivate our collective consciousness, celebrated British nature writer Miriam Darlington finds herself struck by all she doesn’t know about the true nature of these enigmatic creatures.

Darlington begins her fieldwork in the British Isles with her teenage son, Benji. As her avian fascination grows, she travels to France, Serbia, Spain, Finland, and the frosted Lapland borders of the Arctic for rare encounters with the Barn Owl, Tawny Owl, Long-eared Owl, Pygmy Owl, Snowy Owl, and more. But when her son develops a mysterious illness, her quest to understand the elusive nature of owls becomes entangled with her search for finding a cure.

In The Wise Hours, Darlington watches and listens to the natural world and to the rhythms of her home and family, inviting readers to discover the wonders of owls alongside her while rewilding our imagination with the mystery, fragility, and magnificence of all creatures.

About the Author: Miriam Darlington contributes frequently to The Times, The Guardian, and The Ecologist, and is also the author of Otter Country, first published in the UK and forthcoming in the US from Tin House in 2024. She lives in Devon, England.

One minute I was sipping my tea by the window. There was nothing but the palest edge of grey light and a wisp of steam from my cup—and then a shadow swooped out of the air. With the lightest of...

Advance Praise

"A smooth mixture of memoir and nature writing. . . . Lyrical and captivating. . . . heartfelt, enchanting, and beautifully written." - Kirkus Reviews, Starred Review

"Lyrical. . . . moving. . . . Dazzling." - Publishers Weekly, Starred Review

"Open this book, and be thrilled to look at the owl with an even more profound sense of knowledge." - The Muskogee Phoenix

“A beautiful book; wise and sharp-eared as its subject.” —Robert Macfarlane 

"Enchanting." - Tristan Gooley

"Darlington brings humor, humility, and a refreshing subjectivity to her quest to understand these charismatic creatures." - Melissa Harrison, author of All Among the Barley

"Captivating." - The Times

"Achingly beautiful." - The Guardian

"Vivid and engaging." - Sunday Times

"A smooth mixture of memoir and nature writing. . . . Lyrical and captivating. . . . heartfelt, enchanting, and beautifully written." - Kirkus Reviews, Starred Review

"Lyrical. . . . moving...

Available Editions

EDITION Hardcover
ISBN 9781953534835
PRICE $27.95 (USD)

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Average rating from 18 members

Featured Reviews

I love reading nature nonfiction books and Owls may be my favorite type of bird. So when I saw this I was so excited. Miriam Darlington has a great writing style and I felt like I was on the journey with her. Overall this kept me invested and what I was expecting for the book.

"Little Owls, I had read, appear to have something named “small-owl syndrome” and regularly punch above their weight. Even here where they are very rare, this one was trying to singe us with its stare. Not much bigger than a song thrush, they can’t hurt people, but often take on birds that are larger than themselves, and frequently get mobbed because of this aggressive tendency."

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My thanks to both NetGalley and the publisher Tin House for an advanced copy of this book on owls, family, and the state of the world and what we are leaving behind.

Growing up there was always one constant in my family. My mom was always going to get an owl-themed gift for special occasions. Birthday, Christmas, Valentine's Day, Mother's Day, her anniversary I think my Dad would go a little higher end on. She loved owls, we loved her and so that was the gift of choice. Until she discovered carousel horses, but that's another story. What I knew about owls I knew from clocks, magnets, statues, music boxes, and paintings. Maybe an article in Ranger Rick magazine. Turns out there is a lot about owls I never knew, and they are far more intriguing than I would have guessed. And that owls were a way another family bonded with each other. In The Wise Hours: A Journey into the Wild and Secret World of Owls poet and writer Miriam Darlington shares tales of her observation of owls all over the world, what she has learned, and how she and her son used owls to support each other during a time of illness and fear.

Owls have been around for over 60 million years, filling the nights with noise being considered both creatures or knowledge and superstition. There faces are rounded in such a way that it increases their ability to hear and process sound. And they are quite majestic looking. The author's interest in owls started small, seeing one in market, finding signs of owls in her woods, which lead her to investigate and begin to learn about owls and their place in the world, and how the world is making it hard for owls to find a place. As I shared there are numerous facts, about owls, how they can be used to get rid of creatures that destroy crops for less than the price of poison. As Darlington learns more she shares both her observations of owls, and people who have the same interests and fields of study. As she travels afield learning more, she faces problems with one of her children become sick with a mysterious illness, one that almost derails her work.

A book about owls, buy also about family, people, and the legacy that we are leaving behind. This is a much a memoir as it is a nature book, dealing with Darlington's son's illness, as well as people who seem as intrigued by owls as the author is. There are plenty of facts, and stories, and few poems about owls. Chapters are broken down by breeds, with descriptions, histories, and difficulties that each breed of owl is facing for its existence. The writing is very good, being both informative an descriptive and very personal. Darlington is a poet and that is noticeable in the writing, and the way chapters are set up. I enjoyed both the science and the biology about the owls, but I enjoyed the personal tales even more. Darlington has a real gift for presenting her story, investing it with emotions, and leaving the reader wanting to know more. A book that was quite different than what I expected, but I think I enjoyed it more for that reason.

Not just about owls, but also about, love, family, and the entirety of the natural world. Recommended for people who want to know more about owls, or like books of this sort. For poets to show how clearly and wonderfully nonfiction can be written, remaining interesting as well as descriptive. Also for fans of the book Beaverland by Leila Philip, also a poet who writes about the life of beavers in the New England area.

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In this love letter to owls, Miriam Darlington combines scientific information, personal observations, and even poetry to describe these multifaceted birds. While originally intending to focus on birds in Britain, the author broadens her scope with voyages around the world to get up close and personal with the birds she studies.

The book is organized into chapters that focus on a single type of owl. While the author's research is thorough and detailed, there are lighter moments when she lets readers in on her thoughts ("Just one glance at this owl dashes any thoughts of cuteness into the flames of Hades") and more somber ones when she shares information on her son's illness.

Recommended for birders and fans of books like "H is for Hawk" that blend nature studies with memoirs.

Thank you to the publisher and to NetGalley for an advanced reader's copy of this book.

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