A Rain of Night Birds by Deena Metzger might well be one of the most important books written in this troubled century. I’ve known Deena and have been reading her novels, poetry, essays for over 40 years. But this one had an impact on me that I’m still struggling to articulate. I’ll tell you this: since reading this novel, every time I’ve gone outside, I’ve been newly aware of the wind – its direction, force, temperature, texture. I’d not paid it much attention since the days, long-ago now, when I paddled a kayak in the Bay. Anyone who spends much time on the water quickly learns the life-and-death importance of wind and current.
A Rain of Night Birds reminded me that such attention to the Earth is now essential at all times and is certainly a matter of life and death.
Deena has always embraced paradox. She gives new meaning to the adage that the personal is political. In “Rain…” she explores the lives of two characters, Sandra Birdswell and Terrence Green, whose separate journeys have led them to recognize the inadequacy of conventional Western science to respond to planetary crisis.
Deena is the first writer I’ve read who has managed to write a novel that puts climate change front and center without making the reader despair and without falling into didacticism. Every moment of “Rain…” is grounded in the lived experience of her characters. (I’m using “climate change” to stand for the terrifying consequences of so much human activity since the early Industrial Age.)
Both Sandra and Terrence are climatologists. He’s mixed-race – Native American and white. She’s the daughter of a white doctor whose formative years were spent in the Indian Health Service in the southwest. His closest friend is Hosteen Tseda, an indigenous healer who becomes Sandra’s adopted uncle, teacher and mentor.
Sandra chooses to become a healer as well. But even as a child she understands that her calling is to heal the earth.
Years after she first meets Professor G – as Terrence likes to be called by his students – they become lovers and allies. Both of them grew up without knowing their birth mothers. This shared absence in their histories contributes to the profound need they each feel to reconnect themselves to the Earth. Though they’re both scientists, their ties to indigenous culture with its very different ways of knowing informs, tempers and transforms their relationship to the natural world.
Summary and synopsis can only reduce what Deena has accomplished here. There’s no way to give a capsule description of these reluctant heroes without making them sound like two-dimensional icons. It’s their layered complexity and enormous vitality that drives this novel. This book is a kind of “dream-catcher.” Its elements work together lyrically, psychologically and spiritually to create the conditions in the reader’s heart in which wisdom itself might appear.
A Rain of Night Birds, novel, Purchase from Birchbark Books and Native Arts – http://birchbarkbooks.com/all-online-titles/a-rain-of-night-birds