Directed and produced by my granddaughter Astrid Mohr, sound design and engineering by my son, Karl Kohr, written and narrated by me, Merilyn Simonds, this 11-minute documentary contains video footage from the Loghouse Nest as well as photographs of Louise and recordings of her voice.Watch the video »
Watch “Louise de Kiriline Lawrence and the Women who Changed How We Understand Birds”, a Nature Canada event (from July 20, 2022) »
"This Gentle Art" on OpenBook »
Want advance notice of new publications and more? Sign up for LITBITS »
Click on the images below to open a larger image.
Shelagh Rogers talks with Merilyn about Woman, Watching on The Next Chapter, September 10, 3:30 to 4:00 pm EDT. Rebroadcast on Monday, September12 between 1:30 and 2:00 pm.
GetLit E301 with Merilyn Simonds, CKMU, August 25, 2022 with Jamie Tennant
Captivating even for those with only a passing interest in birds, Simonds’s book is an artful mix that blends her own first-person remembrances with crisp, engaging biography and extensive quotations from de Kiriline Lawrence’s delightful letters. The result gives Wiley an opportunity to shine as she switches seamlessly among lively readings of the letters with a hint of de Kiriline Lawrence’s Swedish accent; well-paced and lilting narration of the biographical sections; and cheerful performances of Simonds’ personable memories. Winner of an Audiophile Earphones Award.
– AudioFile Magazine 2022, Portland, Maine
Stepping into this story is like entering its subject’s beloved forest: there is always another layer, another secret path, another living, breathing thing left to discover. Woman, Watching is a book for long summer twilights or cold winter nights – preferably spent at a cottage or by an old stone fireplace. It’s the kind of book you’ll dive into only to shake your head a few chapters later and wonder where the day has gone.
– Anne Thériault, Quill & Quire
A biography that combines de Kiriline Lawrence’s life story with natural history, science, and memoir, becoming in the process a meditation on ways of thinking and being in the natural world...Simonds is a pioneer in the world of creative non-fiction and a wonderful match for her subject. She is a thoughtful writer who handles complexities with aplomb—with both insight and delicacy.
– Susan Crean, Literary Review of Canada
Nature and love resound throughout Woman, Watching…a well-written and loving tribute worthy of its subject. Ultimately, Louise’s story is a hopeful one. Yes, the natural world is diminished and diminishing, but the birds will never lose their ability to surprise and inspire.
– Joel Cherry, Blue Jay (Nature Saskatchewan), Summer 2022
Simonds is a pioneer in the world of creative non-fiction and a wonderful match for her subject. She is a thoughtful writer who handles complexities with aplomb—with both insight and delicacy. [Woman, Watching] is a biography that combines de Kiriline Lawrence’s life story with natural history, science, and memoir, becoming in the process a meditation on ways of thinking and being in the natural world.
– Susan Crean, Literary Review of Canada
Simonds’ own birding and life story are woven into the narrative, adding to the addictive quality of this marvelous biography of a true pioneer of ornithology.
– Booklist, starred review
Simonds’s prose shines and brings the reader into the remarkable moments bird-watchers live for. This brilliant account does justice to a pioneering figure who merits wider recognition.
– Publishers Weekly, starred review
A stellar, adventure-filled biography, Woman, Watching pays tribute to the indomitable, eccentric woman who once observed a red-eyed vireo for fourteen hours straight as it sang over twenty-two thousand songs. Simonds was Lawrence’s friend and neighbor during her later years on Pimisi Bay, and her own forays into birding appear in the book, together with recollections of sweet times with her mentor and friend
– Foreword, starred review
“What a life! Louise de Kiriline Lawrence escaped the Russian Revolution, was nurse to the Dionne Quintuplets, then moved to a log cabin and became an iconic birder and friend of Merilyn Simonds, who has written this lyrical, passionate, and deeply researched portrait.”
– Margaret Atwood, author of The Handmaid’s Tale, Wilderness Tips, and For the Birds, Twitter, December 3, 2021
“Woman, Watching is an entrancing blend of biography, memoir, history, research and homage that is unlike anything I’ve ever read. It’s radical, it’s ravishing. This portrait of a world rich with diversity, and the subsequent thinning of that fullness, moved me deeply.”
– Kyo Maclear, author of Birds, Art, Life.
“No ordinary biography, but an observational study as compassionate and clear-eyed as those undertaken by its subject, famed amateur ornithologist Louise de Kiriline Lawrence. Beautiful and powerful.”
– Helen Humphreys, author of Field Study and The Evening Chorus .
“Simonds beautifully weaves together Louise de Kiriline Lawrence’s evolving relationship with people, nature, and birds, and the awakening in her of a sixth sense—the nature “sense”—sharing with us the passion, inquisitiveness, and indomitable drive that forged one of Canada’s, and perhaps North America’s, greatest naturalists.”
– Ian Davidson, Director (Americas), BirdLife International.
“In sharing de Kiriline’s passion for birds and concern for their survival, Simonds has created a life history that is a lens upon an entire network of women ornithologists. ”
– Trevor Herriot, naturalist, activist, & author of Grass, Sky, Song.
“Louise de Kiriline Lawrence paid attention and left the world a richer, more storied place. Merilyn Simonds returns the favour by honouring her subject in crystalline prose. This book is a gift. Get one for yourself and another for somebody you love.”
– Alissa York, author of The Naturalist.
“This book is itself a birdsong.”
– Cathy Cooper, avid reader, writer and watcher of birds
“A truly exceptional book. It is no small feat to have captured our special friend as accurately as you have done, and in each and every chapter. As I turn the pages, it is as though I can hear her distinctive voice and savour once more Louise’s unique manner of speaking. Thanks to you and your exceptional book she does indeed live on.”
– Barry Penhale, National Heritage Press, publisher of Louise de Kiriline books in paperback
“Beautifully written, beautiful to look at and to hold—I loved the deft interweaving of your own presence and thought-process with Louise’s story—it felt a bit like nest-building, extending that complex web of female connection and shared contribution to science and art.”
– Susan Olding, author of Pathologies: A Life is Essays
“[Woman, Watching] is wonderful…as biography with memoir elements, as a feminist history of birdwatching and birds and so much more.”
– Sandra Campbell, author of Both Hands: A Life of Lorne Pierce
“Woman, Watching is superb. Her story is remarkable and your care and questioning reveals so much about both of you and your shared profound respect for the natural word...Your voice was often a surprise, but the parallels in your lives are stunning.”
– Sharon Wright, avid reader
“I was spellbound by your biography. Your book brought back many memories [such as the time] Louise motioned me to be quiet during a visit to the Loghouse Nest on July 15, 1953 when I approached her mosquito-infested seat in the woods where she was counting Red-eyed Vireo songs…I wrote a review of To Whom the Wilderness Speaks in Park News in 1981. In keeping with her habit of engaging in voluminous correspondence, she wrote to me a warm and gracious letter, thanking me for my review and commenting, inter alia, that “Having had no academic training has always been one of my greatest drawbacks.” I cherish that letter.”
– Fred Helleiner, author of For the Birds: Recollections and Rambles
“My bookclub read your book Woman, Watching and we all thoroughly enjoyed it. The life of Louise was amazing and I am still puzzled as to why we didn’t know about her story, so thank you for that.
We had our bookclub at the Grimsby Wetlands (the picture I have included) and we’re entertained by many, many birds flying over the wetlands in the evening. A fun happening during that evening was that a young man with his bird watching binoculars came by. One of the bookclub members passed on her copy of your book to him. He was so grateful.
A trip to Pimisi Bay couldn’t be avoided and another bookclub member took some time to go to the plaque and see the cabane.”
– Amanda Symington
“Louise de Kiriline Lawrence was exceptional in myriad ways but most of all, for me, there was her watching. I had no idea that so much could be gleaned while sitting silently, hour after hour after hour, letting sights and sounds wash over and through the person. I have practiced meditation for much of my life and yet never have I allowed my self to ‘disappear’ in the way that she must have done. I am so grateful to you for attending in such interesting detail to her extraordinary practice, if I may call it that.
I want to note, as well, how supportive and helpful was your feminist analysis of Louise’s life. With the exception of her innate modesty, I have come away from her story imagining her to be among those rare, exceptional individuals who make trivial the barriers that societal expectations erect. These people carry on, no matter what, and in spite of hierarchical silencing.”
– Sandra P.
“This is one of my favourite books of 2022. Beautifully written and researched, and your own memoir was woven so unobtrusively—and thoughtfully—into Louise’s story. Your bird descriptions were remarkable; each one emerged as completely as characters would in a story. You captured an extraordinary life, but also the passage of time in a real and poignant way. What a remarkable woman and Canadian; thank you for bringing her to life for us.”
– Carole Giangrande, author of The Frailty of Living Things, The Tender Birds, and more
“I heard your interview on CBC awhile back and immediately ordered the book out of the Guelph Public Library. I was already 38 on the wait list! I finally got it for a couple of weeks.
Your book is so informative and encouraging for me. During covid, a friend and I bought kayaks and putz around on rivers and park lakes searching out flora and fauna. We are somewhat artists and draw something to mark the day...we sketch or paint in our homemade books and call them our Summer School. After two full seasons, we have logged 62 paddles.
Your book about Louise is inside and part of me...so uplifting and encouraging. I will soon be 75 and still loving the outdoors and my backyard feeder by a busy highway. As soon as I finished the book and closed it, I looked up and saw MY red cardinal at the feeder! And the chickadees and red breasted nuthatches (Hazel and Pea) had to make an appearance too.
I just want to thank you for enriching my life.”
– Marilyn S
“I LOVED Woman, Watching. I got a signed copy from Lighthouse Books in Brightonlast weekend and enjoyed it immensely while camping at Presqu'ile. Finished it last night in my comfy bed at home, and it was just such a pleasure and a revelation. What a wonderful book! I dare anyone to watch this short film based on the book and not want to read the whole thing!”
– Kerry Clare, book blogger [www.picklemethis.com] and author of Waiting for a Star to Fall
“What a masterpiece of research, wisdom, revelation and generous acknowledgement of the significant women birders and so much more. Louise was so lucky to have entered the consciousness of Merilyn Simonds, long before the latter brilliant writer could put her mind and pen to this project.
You give us her life with such grace and intelligence. You lay on the page not only her accomplishments, but also her passion, her rootedness in place, the love she had for her two men and their different but tragic ends. I felt you really brought me to an understanding and an appreciation for this odd, amazing character who, thank god, crossed your path and she yours. You're both role models to women thinkers, writers, lovers and watchers.”
– Lorna Crozier
It is rare for me to ration my reading, but with certain books, especially near the end, I purposefully slow down because I don't want the experience to end, and that is exactly what I'm doing right now. I am at the very end (where you are in Louise's cabin, writing the book) and I don't want the journey to be over. The other day on my run, I was much more aware of the birds flitting along the trail. I couldn't tell you what they were, but I was inspired to note their presence. Anyway, I just wanted you to know how much I love your book. In fact, I love it so much, I'm incorporating it into my living room decor. Like, that's it's spot. Permanently.”
– Carolyn M.