The title of your book is rather unique. Care to explain it?
Well, it’s based on a unique experience—nearly being killed by a pheasant. While I was still in graduate school, when my wife and I were living in Belle Plaine, Iowa, I was driving down a rural highway when a pheasant flew in my open driver’s side window, flapped around in my face, and nearly caused me to dump the car in a ditch. Luckily I knocked it back outside and was able to safely pull over, where I remained for a long time, trying to recover myself. The surrounding landscape was also experiencing some dramatic surprises that summer. It was the summer of 1993, during some of the worst state-wide flooding on record. The rural countryside along my commute had become nearly unrecognizable, a mixture of massive destruction and surprising natural beauty. Flooded cornfields were full of wild birds, and the unmown ditches erupted with native grasses and wildflowers. For most of my life I had thought of my home landscape and its wildlife as ordinary, overly familiar and predictable—that wayward pheasant and the floods changed my thinking. I got a brief glimpse of what Iowa used to be, a rich ecology of wetlands and prairies, a place of surprises and danger, which is one way to define wilderness. The ordinary suddenly became extraordinary, and it transformed me and my relationship to the place in which I had been born and raised. Having spent most of my life wanting to leave home, I was now longing for a deeper relationship with what remains of wildness here, a new sense of kinship with place. I see that process as a kind of death and then rebirth, which I believe is what happens during the most profound experiences of our lives—this memoir is about those kinds of transformative experiences. But we don’t usually recognize their significance until much later. At the time of the pheasant incident itself, I was just frightened out of my mind and embarrassed—who expects their obituary to read “Man Killed by Pheasant?”
John Price is the author of Man Killed by Pheasant and Other Kinships