Tracking Desire
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Tracking Desire

A Journey after Swallow-tailed Kites

Susan Cerulean

Illustrated by Prudence Carter

Title Details

Pages: 192

Trim size: 5.250in x 8.500in



Pub Date: 03/01/2006

ISBN: 9-780-8203-2819-5

List Price: $22.95

Related Subjects

NATURE / Animals / Birds

Tracking Desire

A Journey after Swallow-tailed Kites

Susan Cerulean

Illustrated by Prudence Carter

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  • Reviews

“My memory is etched with a clear image of how that bird swung into view and hung over me, suspended like an angel, so starkly black and white, with its wide-scissored split of a tail.”

It took just one sighting of a swallow-tailed kite to dispatch Susan Cerulean on a pilgrimage through its fragmented and ever-shrinking habitats. In Tracking Desire, Cerulean immerses us in the natural history and biology of Elanoides forficatus. At the same time, she sifts through her past—as a child, student, biologist, parent, and activist—to muse on a lifelong absorption with nature.

Once at home throughout much of the eastern United States, the swallow-tailed kite is now seldom seen. With ornithologist Ken Meyer, and then on her own, Cerulean roams the kite’s much-reduced homelands, gaining knowledge about the bird and the grave threats to its breeding grounds and migration patterns. Her quest takes her to the muddy banks of the Mississippi, to an enormous and vulnerable roost on corporate ranchlands in southwest Florida, and to the remnant pinelands of Everglades National Park.

In seeking the bird, Cerulean comes to question her own place in our consumerist society. “My journeys after kites have led me to understand that the power of our longings is placing the integrity of life on our tender emerald planet so greatly at risk,” she writes. “What are the fractured places in our hearts and minds and spirits that have allowed us to stand by and watch, and even to participate in, the destruction of so much of life?”

Here is a book as lovely as the bird it follows: a pleasure from beginning to end. Even more so, Tracking Desire is a vivid, embodied, unflinching look at the consequences of our lives and a prayer for the emancipation of the human spirit. The pages contain so much—a kind of translation of the holy, as if embroidered with gold thread—that I expect them to go flying off into their own heavens. Here is modern mythology, beautifully written. With this work, Susan Cerulean takes her well-earned place among the country's beloved nature writers.

—Janisse Ray, author of Wild Card Quilt: Taking a Chance on Home

One can search the breadth of North America, the tropics, and beyond seeking birds, and never find any species more spectacular than the swallow-tailed kite. Returned to Florida after a decade and a half in the West, I am now privileged to see swallow-tailed kites on an almost daily basis during their breeding season—even in my own backyard! I can only hope this experience will continue. Susan Cerulean has captured the essence of this most graceful of birds in Tracking Desire, a beautifully written and intensely personal testimony to reawakened wonder and wildness. Let us hope this book will stimulate redoubled efforts to protect and restore this vanishing, feathered treasure.

—Reed F. Noss, author of Saving Nature’s Legacy

On delicate wings, Susan Cerulean lifts us toward the mystery of who we are, we human beings, and where we belong in this world of winged and rooted things. As she seeks an intimate connection with her beloved, imperiled swallow-tailed kites, she reminds us of the essential connections between science and spirit, landscape and stories, short-term decisions and the long-term survival of the natural systems that sustain us. This is rare and wonderful nature writing.

—Kathleen Dean Moore, author of Riverwalking and The Pine Island Paradox

A beautiful collection of interconnected essays, often personal, always accessible . . . there are passages in Tracking Desire that are surprising, unexpected, and brilliant. . . . Cerulean's words are poetry even among scientific study . . . Both knowledge and wisdom—their own necessary beauty—are the welcome gifts of Tracking Desire.


An honest book, finely written . . . Her narrative—from the obsessive pursuit of kites to a cry against human destruction of other forms of life—is a deeply personal journey. It is also the author's attempt to 'dive for spirit, the invisible river of being that connects us all at one time, all the time.'


Cerulean's message, however, is more complex, deeper than a mere recitation of the harm inflicted on our environment and the other species that inhabit it. There is a spiritual dimension to this lyrical book, an invitation to readers to examine our own passions and our own connections and discover what time spent with wildlife might restore to us.

Tallahassee Democrat

Cerulean's account moves as fluidly as a kite in flight—the birds are in constant motion—and weaves science, family history and interior musings that blend the fabric of her life with the fabric of the kite's life history.


In a lovely series of essays, Cerulean explores the hunger for intimacy, the unnameable longing, that can cause the connection with nature that she found with the kite but can also cause the destruction of the very thing one desires. . . . This lyrical book belongs in all libraries where readers demand environmental writing.


About the Author/Editor

SUSAN CERULEAN is a writer, naturalist, and advocate based in Tallahassee, Florida. She has written and edited many books, including gold medal Florida Book Award winner Coming to Pass: Florida’s Coastal Islands in a Gulf of Change, and her nature memoir, Tracking Desire: A Journey after Swallow-tailed Kites (both Georgia), that was named and Editor’s Choice title by Audubon magazine. I Have Been Assigned the Single Bird: A Daughter’s Memoir (also Georgia) is her most recent work.