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?"
Susan Cerulean is the director of the Red Hills Writers Project in Tallahassee, Florida, and coeditor of Between Two Rivers: Stories from the Red Hills to the Gulf. She is also the author of Florida Wildlife Viewing Guide, editor of The Book of the Everglades, and coeditor of Guide to the Great Florida Birding Trail: East Section and The Wild Heart of Florida.