I am a writer and bookseller living in West Seattle, in Washington State.

Birdland West reflects my interest in, and passion for, birds and wildlife.  When I was a little kid (in the pine forests of the Southeast, a long way from where I live now) I used to play along the creeks near my suburban home and pretend that I was Stanley following the Nile in search of Livingstone (I also watched PBS documentaries a lot).  My most frequent companion in those days was my German Shepherd Ahab. (I also loved Rin Tin Tin). 

The legendary Roscoe P. Whippet, athlete, linguist, friend.
For many years after that, however, I managed to arrange my life so that I lived in urban areas away from nature.  Those years are pretty much a blur but I remember lots of concrete and hanging out in coffee shops being depressed.  Then,  about the time I was turning forty, things changed.  I was in a Toastmasters meeting  -- I was chairing the meeting -- and the topic for the day was pets and animals.  All through the meeting people came up and told stories about their pets and the relationships they had with animals.  By the end of the meeting I was crying so hard that I couldn't close -- I had to have someone else come up and end the meeting.  What the hell was going on?    After that meeting a woman came up and told me that she used to volunteer at a local companion animal shelter and suggested that it might be good for me.  I believe this was one of those moments when we get an urgent message from ourselves -- the kind of thing Joseph Campbell meant when he talked about following your Bliss.  It's so easy to shrug those moments off and forget about them.  Luckily, I didn't.  I called the shelter and a few months later I was a volunteer dog walker.  It's not an overstatement, at all, to say that it changed my life.  To begin with, I met one of my soul mates:  the legendary Roscoe P. Whippet.  Roscoe -- a "Canine American" (he would have hated being called a dog) of mixed heritage, changed my life in more ways than I could have imagined.  A service dog with almost as many issues as his master (anxious, high strung, more than a little bit crazy), he was also a world class athlete of amazing abilities with a drive that was unbelievable.  I often saw people and dogs at the park standing open mouthed watching him.

A true sight hound, Roscoe loved views.  Here, atop Edgar Rock in Eastern Washington
Lulubelle Dawg, who loved Roscoe from the moment she met him.
Sadly, in March of 2010 Roscoe was diagnosed with cancer.  This was in the middle of what would become a very dark time for me and my roommate.  Our online book business was failing, we went through a protracted and traumatic move involving our home and our business, our finances and credit were completely wiped out, and then we had to nurse Roscoe through almost six months of decline.  Roscoe's cancer was aggressive, and located in the bone of his upper jaw, so there was no possibility of surgery.  His prognosis, even with chemotherapy, was about three months.  Despite my skepticism about alternative treatments, we chose, along with our vet, to give Roscoe a regimen of homeopathic treatments and cancer fighting supplements.  Mostly, I think, because of his amazing fitness and willpower, Roscoe lived almost twice as long as he was predicted to live with chemotherapy.  Taking care of him during his illness, watching him gradually give up his obsessions and come to what I truly believe was a kind of contentment and acceptance, was one of the most profound experiences of my life.  In August of 2010, Roscoe let us know that he was ready to go, and our vet came to our house to put him to sleep in the bed that he loved.  Our other family dog, Lulubelle, was there with us to say goodbye.

Lulubelle with our new puppy, Z Monster Zeke.
Its no exaggeration to say bird watching saved my life in a time of great sorrow
After our move, I discovered that my new neighborhood in West Seattle -- a more suburban area than the urban neighborhood we had left -- was rich in wildlife and birds.  I set up bird feeders, and started spending a lot of time watching the many species who came to our yard.  Through the end of Roscoe's illness, my mother's death, constant worries about money, bills and creditors, trying to finally make a real effort at my lifelong dream of being a professional writer -- through all this and the many other normal frustrations and worries of life -- the life that flourished in our front yard became my haven.  Discovering new species, learning their songs, observing chickadees and juncos and bushtits, hummingbirds,  and crows (and rats, and squirrels and opossums and raccoons) gave me a new kind of focus and hope when it seemed like I had lost most of what was important to me.  

Out of that fascination and love, comes "Birdland West".  

(Astute readers may realize that the name is a play on the famous jazz club Birdland.  Jazz is also one of my passions and comforts.)

In her poem "Wild Geese" the poet Mary Oliver writes:

Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on ....

Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting --
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

More than anything else, I think, "Birdland West" should be about this:   "the family of things".

I have a related blog devoted to books about animals and related topics, which you can find here:  Books and Beasts.

You can follow me on Twitter @alexwashoe