Birding Under the Influence, by Dorian Anderson « Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

Birding Under the Influence, by Dorian Anderson

Birding Under the Influence/Cycling Across America in Search of Birds and Recovery

With several days of rain and high winds in the forecast, we left our AirBnb in Pierre, SD a day early and headed north to Kevin’s house in Washburn, ND, 45 minutes past and slightly west of Bismarck. We had tremendous luck in South Dakota with sunny mornings and lots of Greater Prairie Chickens. Huge thanks to both Kevin and Anita for making my life easy by setting up, taking down, and transporting the blinds.

When the bad weather abates, we will try for Sharp-tailed Grouse. When we got to Kevin’s home, I looked around for something to read and found a copy of Dorian Anderson’s Birding Under the Influence: Cycling Across America in Search of Birds and Recovery. I simply could not put the book down and spent most of the next 25 hours engrossed in the book. Dorian is an incredibly gifted writer and shares the tale of his year long pursuit of birds on his bicycle. Through bone chilling cold and searing heat, up and down punishing mountains and across deserts, the book is filled with birds and birding, with adventure, with life-threatening danger, with challenges and accomplishment. Dorian broad knowledge base is evident as he shares of the lives and habitats of the birds he sought, the land he rode through, and the great variety of folks he met along the way. All interspersed with meaningful and insightful social commentary.

Dorian, a recovering alcoholic and drug addict, attended Stanford, Harvard, and NYU. He took a year off from his job at Mass General as neuroscience researcher and set off on his bike for one year in effort to find 600 bird species, himself, and sobriety, and to reunite with the love of his life. Can you say molecular and cellular biology and embryology? His incredible, heck, barely believable journey leads to a new and much fuller life. Best for me, however, was the intertwined love story that left me in tears.

You can purchase your copy here.

ps: Not mentioned in the book is the fact that Dorian is also a world class bird photographer.

I Am Not the Only One Who Loved This Book

“One hell of a ride.”—Nick Offerman, actor, woodworker, New York Times bestselling author.

“Candid and often moving reflections . . . make for absorbing reading. . . . [This is] a memoir of a journey that was more than just a chase after numbers.”—Booklist

“What an incredible story! Dorian’s adventure is an inspiration for birders and non-birders alike.”―David Lindo, author of The Urban Birder

“This is no ordinary Big Year birding book, as Dorian’s story supersedes birds and reveals how a year of contemplation, biking, and birding helped him to overcome his inner struggles of addiction and broken relationships that are all too relatable for many of us. Many of us are reluctant to hit the ‘pause’ button on life, afraid of what that might lead to, but Dorian’s example of setting aside a year to process his thoughts, relationships, and future is an example for us, and birding might just be the adventure we need, even for a day or two.”―Luke Safford, Director of Engagement and Education, Tucson Audubon

“Birding Under the Influence is an adrenaline hit for birders and adventure junkies. It’s also a surprisingly tender story of redemption, as Dorian Anderson faces down his addictions and reinvents his career. Having eagerly awaited this book after Anderson’s 2014 Big Year, I read it in a blissful, all-out binge―as will anyone with a taste for birds and inspiring journeys.”―Noah Stryker, Associate Editor of Birding magazine and author of Birding Without Borders

“A story led by the bike and fueled by his tenacity, Dorian colorfully articulates the depth to which putting in the work―both physically on the bike, and emotionally on oneself―reaps infinite rewards.”―Tiffany Kirsten, birding guide and past Lower 48 U.S. Continental Big Year record holder

“Dorian tells it like it is: don’t let life happen to you, no matter what your tendencies and what well-worn grooves you slide into. Life is what you create, accepting your faults and challenges, and realizing that the path forward is not how you plan it―instead, it happens how you least imagined it. And as in any wonderful, gripping story, great birding was involved!”―Alvaro Jaramillo, owner and guide, Alvaro’s Adventures

“[Anderson] is a marvelous writer and, boy, does he have a tale to tell.”―The Denver Post “In the Know”

“There are many big year novels, as birders tell how they tried to see as many species of birds in a year as they can, but Anderson’s self-powered attempt covers novel challenges and encounters. Among the physical and mental challenges of birding and biking across the country, Anderson also recounts his experience finding sobriety – another tale of nature’s many cures.”―Portland Press Herald

“Recounting a starkly different kind of ‘Big Year’ Dorian details an unlikely saga that takes a toll on him, physically and mentally. So often birding is a quest, and in this memoir Dorian Anderson seeks birds but also some sense of self. At times throwing himself on the mercy of his fellow Americans, he finds his way through and across the country, enlisting a colorful cast of characters as he goes. For this one year his only commitment is to his bicycle. His bike both frees and imprisons him simultaneously, but eventually it delivers him, along with a unique story. America’s sweetest wildlife spectacles light a path that would otherwise be strewn with 40-ounce bottles of malt liquor and rails of cocaine. From Snowy Owls in Boston to Yellow-footed Gulls in California’s Salton Sea, saddle up for a modern journey that harkens back to classic birding adventures, like those of Pete Dunne in The Feather Quest or to Wild America by Roger Tory Peterson and James Fisher.”―George Armistead, founder and guide, Hillstar Nature

In Birding Under the Influence, Dorian Anderson, a neuroscience researcher on a pressure-filled life trajectory, walks away from the world of elite institutions, research labs, and academic publishing. In doing so, he falls in love and discovers he has freed himself to embrace his lifelong passion for birding.

A North American Big Year—a continent-spanning adventure in which a birder attempts to see as many species as possible in twelve months—is a massive undertaking under any circumstances. But doing it on a bike while maintaining sobriety? That’s next level.

As Dorian pedals across the country, describing the birds he sees, he confronts the challenges of long-distance cycling: treacherous weather, punctured tires, speeding cars, and injury. He encounters eccentric characters, blistering blacktop, dreary hotel rooms, snarling dogs, and an endless sea of smoking tailpipes. He also confronts his past struggles with alcohol, drugs, and risky behaviors that began in high school and followed him into adulthood.

Birding Under the Influence is a candid, honest look at Dorian’s double life of academic accomplishment and addiction. While his journey to recovery is simultaneously poignant and inspiring, it is ultimately his love of birds and nature that provides the scaffolding to build a new and radically different life. Chelsea Green Publishing


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