“He really was an enchanting person. In some way he was like the spiritual father of everybody…. It is hard to imagine Central Park without Charles Kennedy.” Marie Winn, author of Red-tails in Love, and close friend of Charles, remembering him after his death in October 2004

Sunday, October 9, 2011

An Owling Family and Central Park in the Dark

Charles Kennedy in action!
One of the loveliest parts of bringing Charles's collections to publication is that it keeps me close to members of his New York City 'birding family'. So, in order to shine a light on the owling portion of that family, I'm posting a piece of my introduction to the Owls of Central Park.   
     While I am at it, I will urge you to find and read Marie Winn's book, Central Park in the Dark, which features all of these same characters and many more in masterfully told tales of nighttime naturalist excursions in the greatest urban park in America.  Marie has graciously allowed me to use material from her fine books in the Charles collections for which I am eternally grateful. 
From my introduction to Owls of Central Park:
     The last time I was with Charles was two weeks before he lost his battle with cancer. During that last quiet time together, what he most wanted to do was read to me from his newest compilation, his “owl book.” He had engaged his friends in producing, by hand, large copies of the book--in part to keep them from focusing on his deteriorating health, and in part to make sure it was finished and available to his close network of friends and family. As Charles read his book about Central Park owls he charged me with tending to his large body of written and photographic work. So this book has a special place in my heart. It also is a favorite among Charles’s friends and acquaintances. 
     As I prepare these comments, I am paging through an original, hand-bound copy of the owl book. I strain to hear Charles’s warm, vibrant voice, adding pithy, parenthetical notes about the photos and the stories. The main bookbinders at Charles’s bedside were his closest birding buddies: Marie Winn, Noreen O’Rourke, Lee Stinchcomb, and Jim Lewis. They were original hawk-watching stalwarts, and they appear in Charles’s hawk tribute, Pale Male and Family (Cerberus Press). They all became Central Park owling buddies, so they are main actors in this book as well.
     You will also meet up with Central Park über-birders Tom Fiore and Sharon Freedman as well as Central Park Conservancy woodlands boss, Regina Alvarez.  And look for cameo appearances by Big Apple luminaries such as Joe DiMaggio and Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington. It’s true! Charles always brought his love of art, music, literature, and sports to his encounters with nature.
     In this book, Charles indulges other passions as well. He takes us deep into owl science, at one point providing evidence that refutes a belief that owls’ eyes are fixed in their sockets. And, as always, he illuminates his feathered subjects in masterful haiku poems. The haiku Charles chose for his owl-tribute book are perched throughout.*At Charles’s urging, Ms. Winn wrote her lovely book, Central Park in the Dark: More Mysteries of Urban Wildlife (Farrar, Straus and Giroux).  Her book paints, on a larger canvas, the fascinating nighttime, nature adventures of Charles and his friends. 
     This collection contains the original owl book (as Charles created it) with special excerpts from Ms. Winn’s book––offerings of call-and-response and contextual harmony. Charles also kept an audiotape journal of well-developed ideas for magazine articles. His journal is excerpted throughout this volume as well.

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