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Stairway to heaven The Snow Geese William Fiennes 256pp Picador At the age of 25 William Fiennes suffered severe illness in the middle of his postgraduate studies During a long period of convalescence he had time to reflect on this trauma and why it had triggered in him such a deep yearning for the soothing familiarity and reassurance of his parents family home in the English Midlands Fiennes also sought to fill the vacuum created by his enforced leisure with an old neglected interest in ornithology inspired by his father and readings of a favourite book from childhood Paul Gallicos The Snow Goose The surprise outcome of this period as an invalid was an intrepid project as soon as he was fully recovered to follow real wild snow geese during their migration The bird in question is not the same as the subject of Gallicos book but a closely related form known as the lesser snow goose which moves in huge flocks each spring from its wintering areas in southern Texas to breeding grounds near Churchill on the shores of Canadas Hudson Bay Running in tandem with this quest was Fienness larger ambition to write a book that was part North American travelogue part natural-historical study of animal migration - and of geese in particular - and part meditation on the importance of home and its flipside our human longing for travel and the unknown The Snow Geese is a rare travel book and not only for the outstanding literary promise of its author More important for the genre is the fact that Fiennes has unearthed a theme perfectly suited to the travel books structure His description of his 4000-mile journey across the American interior is itself an exploration of the larger questions he poses for himself and for the reader What is the nature of home Why is it so important not only to humans but to many other species Why
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