Cover: Woman, Watching: Louise de Kiriline Lawrence and the Songbirds of Pimisi Bay by Merilyn Simonds

Woman, Watching: Louise de Kiriline Lawrence and the Songbirds of Pimisi Bay

Simonds, Merilyn

  • From award-winning author Merilyn Simonds, a remarkable biography of an extraordinary woman — a Swedish aristocrat who survived the Russian Revolution to become an internationally renowned naturalist, one of the first to track the mid-century decline of songbirds.

    2022 Foreword Indies Award Winner for the Editor’s Choice Prize, non fiction

    “[A] lyrical, passionate, and deeply researched portrait.” — Margaret Atwood

    “This brilliant account does justice to a pioneering figure who merits wider recognition.” — Publishers Weekly, starred review

    “[A] marvelous biography of a true pioneer of ornithology.” — Booklist, starred review

    Woman, Watching is an entrancing blend of biography, memoir, history, research, and homage that is unlike anything I’ve ever read. It’s radical, it’s ravishing.” — Kyo Maclear, author of Birds Art Life

    Referred to as a Canadian Rachel Carson, Louise de Kiriline Lawrence lived and worked in an isolated log cabin near North Bay. After her husband was murdered by Bolsheviks, she refused her Swedish privilege and joined the Canadian Red Cross, visiting her northern Ontario patients by dogsled. When Elzire Dionne gave birth to five babies, Louise became nurse to the Dionne Quintuplets. Repulsed by the media circus, she retreated to her wilderness cabin, where she devoted herself to studying the birds that nested in her forest. Author of six books and scores of magazine stories, de Kiriline Lawrence and her “loghouse nest” became a Mecca for international ornithologists.

    Lawrence was an old woman when Merilyn Simonds moved into the woods not far away. Their paths crossed, sparking Simonds’s lifelong interest. A dedicated birder, Simonds brings her own songbird experiences from Canadian nesting grounds and Mexican wintering grounds to this deeply researched, engaging portrait of a uniquely fascinating woman.


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  • Merilyn Simonds is the author of 20 books, including the nonfiction classic The Convict Lover, Gutenberg’s Fingerprint, and most recently, the novel Refuge. The founding artistic director of Kingston WritersFest, Simonds is an influential champion of writers and writing. She lives with writer and translator Wayne Grady and divides her time between Kingston, Ontario, and San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.

  • Published: May 2022

    ISBN: 9781770416598

    Dimensions: 5.5 x 8.5 in.

    Pages: 416


“Simonds’s prose shines and brings the reader into the remarkable moments bird-watchers live for. This brilliant account does justice to a pioneering figure who merits wider recognition.” — Publishers Weekly, starred review

“A stellar, adventure-filled biography.” — Foreword Reviews, starred review

“Simonds — an author of both fiction and nonfiction, including The Convict Lover — is a master of her craft, and that’s clearly reflected in Woman, Watching. Her prose is rich and sprawling, spinning an in-depth narrative out of de Kiriline Lawrence’s life. Stepping into this story is like entering its subject’s beloved forest: there is always another layer, another secret path, another living, breathing thing left to discover. Woman, Watching is a book for long summer twilights or cold winter nights — preferably spent at a cottage or by an old stone fireplace. It’s the kind of book you’ll dive into only to shake your head a few chapters later and wonder where the day has gone. As with the woods, a reader can get lost in there if they’re not careful.” — Quill & Quire

“Exhilarating. Louise de Kiriline Lawrence has found her ideal biographer in Merilyn Simonds. Woman, Watching is an inspiration and a joy.” — Candace Savage, author of The Wonder of Canadian Birds

“The accounts of Louise de Kiriline Lawrence’s unfathomable journey across war-torn Russia and hardships faced in pursuit of someone she loved is a story unto itself, but combined with her migration to a sparsely settled area north of Algonquin Park, and the challenges she encountered on the road to becoming one of Canada’s most respected ornithologists, make this an epic story. In Simonds’s hands, the passion, the struggle, the celebration, and the sheer beauty of Louise’s story leaps off the page.” — Ian Davidson, Director (Americas), BirdLife International

Woman, Watching is an irresistible account of an extraordinary life. Louise de Kiriline Lawrence was a woman powered by passion, intellectual curiosity, and independence of mind; she paid attention during her time on the planet and left the world a richer, more storied place as a result. Merilyn Simonds returns the favour by honouring her subject in crystalline prose, applying an unfailing instinct for those details that allow meaningful ingress into another’s experience. This book is a gift. Get one for yourself and another for somebody you love.” — Alissa York, author of The Naturalist

Woman, Watching is a well-written and loving tribute worthy of its subject, and I would recommend it to anyone interested in Canadian natural history or birding.” — Nature Saskatchewan’s Blue Jay Journal

“A fascinating book about a woman I knew nothing about but whose story deserves to be told. Well-written, filled with exceptionally detailed research, I thoroughly enjoyed this one!” — Knit One, Spin Too blog

“Meditative and calming, Simonds beautiful, crisp prose takes readers into a day in de Kiriline Lawrence's life as she begins to discover yet another new self as an ornithologist and nature writer.” — Open Book

“Simonds is a pioneer in the world of creative non-fiction and a wonderful match for her subject. She is a thoughtful writer who handles complexities with aplomb — with both insight and delicacy.” — Literary Review of Canada

“The book is packed full of information on Canadian bird life and behaviour, which is a real treat, as are the accounts of Kiriline Lawrence’s friends and other Canadian women birders. One of the nicest things about it is that the author personally knew Kiriline Lawrence and had a lot of respect and affection for her, which shines through and really brings the writing to life … I recommend this biography to bird lovers, whether you have heard of Kiriline Lawrence or not. It’s a great read.” — Grantleigh Manor Library blog

“This book is well written … The tale of writing from the log house herself and pondering on the life and last few years of the elderly ornithologist was particularly poignant. Simonds’ challenge was to pare down the riches of Louise’s life captured in her writings and private correspondence with a good number of people. It turned out well — well done!” — Nature PEI’s Island Naturalist Newsletter

Woman, Watching: Louise de Kiriline Lawrence and the Songbirds of Pimisi Bay by Merilyn Simonds is nothing short of a most amazing book about the life of a most amazing woman.” — Parry Sound North Star

“Simonds’ own birding and life story are woven into the narrative, adding to the addictive quality of this marvelous biography of a true pioneer of ornithology.” — Booklist starred review

“What a life! Louise de Kiriline Lawrence escaped the Russian Revolution, was nurse to the Dionne Quintuplets, then moved to a log cabin and became an iconic birder and friend of Simonds, who has written this lyrical, passionate, and deeply researched portrait.” — Margaret Atwood

Woman, Watching is an entrancing blend of biography, memoir, history, research, and homage that is unlike anything I’ve ever read. It’s radical, it’s ravishing. This portrait of a world rich with diversity, and the subsequent thinning of that fullness, moved me deeply.” — Kyo Maclear, author of Birds Art Life

“No ordinary biography, but an observational study as compassionate and clear-eyed as those undertaken by its subject — famed amateur ornithologist Louise de Kiriline Lawrence. Beautiful and powerful. Merilyn Simonds has written a remarkable book about a remarkable woman.” — Helen Humphreys, author of Field Study and The Evening Chorus

“Louise de Kiriline lived several lives, and this stirring biography brings all of them vividly to the page. In sharing de Kiriline’s passion for birds and concern for their survival, Simonds has created a life history that is a lens upon an entire network of women ornithologists.” — Trevor Herriot, naturalist, activist, and author of Grass, Sky, Song

“I’d thoroughly recommend this book to any fan of nature, birds or if you are in need of incredibly strong female role models. Simonds brought her to life like only a good friend could; Louise de Kirilene Lawrence who observed birds, nature and people and was indeed ‘a woman, watching’.” — Pilgrim House

“A beautifully-written biography.” — Nature Manitoba newsletter

“If you love books about birds and nature, Woman, Watching is for you. If you like to read about strong women who forge their own unique path, this biography is for you. If you are interested in women writers and the challenges they face, you will love Louise.” — The Literate Quilter blog

“Simonds, herself a versatile writer and devoted birder, has adopted her subject’s thorough and enthusiastic approach. Her beautifully written book is steeped in all of Lawrence’s writings — published and unpublished — as well as a deep familiarity with her beloved Loghouse woods.” — Politics and Prose

“I loved this book and hated for it to end. Such a fascinating, determined woman. Louise was a powerhouse we should all know about. A revolutionary thinker, she used common sense and observation to learn all she could about the birds she loved so much. A pure joy for any lover of birds.” — Life in my Kingdom blog

“There is a lot of wisdom in this book by both the author and by Louise about walking a path that is seen as unusual, about aging, about love and loss, and about nature and how to protect it.” — The Martins Blog

“Thanks to Merilyn Simonds’s rich, perceptive portrait, whether fleeing the Bolshevik Army or keeping predawn vigil in a snowbank to observe the nesting habits of the Canada Jay, Louise is never less than bracing company.” — Flying Books Newsletter