Eagle Dreams: Searching for Legends in Wild Mongolia
by Stephen J. Bodio
* Hardcover: 256 pages ; Dimensions (in inches): 0.98 x 9.22 x 6.22
* Publisher: The Lyons Press; 1.00 edition (December 1, 2003)
* ISBN: 1592282075
I was a junior in college when my dad sent me a copy of a new magazine he had started receiving at home called Gray's Sporting Journal. An English student and avid sportsman, I turned immediately to the book review section. Typically, I did not expect much from a sporting magazine's book review; seldom did these reviews actually convey much critical information.
This was the first time I read Steve Bodio's by-line. I read his review column, then went back and read it again, and again. In three pages, I knew this was a writer that deserved my attention. In fact, I had never read anyone who so passionately loved books and the sporting life, and who also wrote about those passions so beautifully. As Bodio himself once wrote about another writer: "He's THAT good."
Steve Bodio is a cult writer, a characterization I once heard Bodio himself acknowledge. Those of us who make up this cult cannot figure out why he isn't better known. Quite possibly it is because he is a naturalist who remains an unapologetic hunter, a hunter who would rather discuss natural history than the latest camouflage pattern, and a writer who ignores current fashions and writes about subjects like falconry, pigeons, catfish and wild freedom.
This latest book, on Mongolia, is a wonderful travel book that one hopes will introduce Bodio to a new and expanded readership. "Eagle Dreams" traces Bodio's fascination with the eagle hunters of Mongolia to the realization of the dream during the course of two trips.
Calling "Eagle Dreams" a travel book is perhaps unfair; it is not easily placed into a neat category. It is a travel book, a sporting book, a nature book, a "sense of place" book-but none of those categories convey its real spirit.
Bodio has a naturalist's keen curiosity, conveyed through vivid descriptions of everything from eagles to malaria. He has a fascination with even the more common creatures, writing of the magpies and pigeons he finds with a delight that seems as if he is seeing these creatures for the first time. He captures Mongolia's interesting history, its nomadic culture and the difficulties of travel in a way that is humane, engaging, and, at times, laugh-out-loud funny.
Of course, there is a lot of falconry here, with fascinating writing about the eagle hunters of Mongolia, their methods, their birds and their lives.
Bodio does not take his travels for granted, in stark contrast to the writers of many modern travel books. His travels to Mongolia are the realization of a dream, and he conveys just what it is like for a lover of words and ideas to finally stand in a place one has imagined deeply. I suspect many of us who grew up dreaming of travel that seemed so beyond our means can relate to this; I have never read any writer who conveys this feeling better. His observations on the "sountrack" of such experiences are worth the price of the book.
This book is a good introduction to Steve Bodio, capturing his love of animals and wild places, his opinionated (and true) observations on our society's maddening political correctness and Puritanism, his embodiment of a well-lived life (again, to paraphrase him on another subject, I'm not sure that he is making much of a living but what a life!), his literary musings that lead one to believe he has read EVERYTHING, and a writing style that is just a joy to read.
Ultimately, this book seems to be saying, that, even in an increasingly tamed and conformist world, there is still quarry to hunt, books to read, birds to watch, adventures to live. It's not a message you'll find in many travel-to-unusual places books. If for that reason alone, read this book.
Reviewer: Matthew L. Miller