Tracking Desire
A Journey after Swallow-tailed Kites

Susan Cerulean

In search of a rare and extraordinary raptor


"Here is a book as lovely as the bird it follows: a pleasure from beginning to end. Even more so, Tracking Desire is a vivid, embodied, unflinching look at the consequences of our lives and a prayer for the emancipation of the human spirit. The pages contain so much—a kind of translation of the holy, as if embroidered with gold thread—that I expect them to go flying off into their own heavens. Here is modern mythology, beautifully written. With this work, Susan Cerulean takes her well-earned place among the country's beloved nature writers."
—Janisse Ray, author of Wild Card Quilt: Taking a Chance on Home

"One can search the breadth of North America, the tropics, and beyond seeking birds, and never find any species more spectacular than the swallow-tailed kite. Returned to Florida after a decade and a half in the West, I am now privileged to see swallow-tailed kites on an almost daily basis during their breeding season—even in my own backyard! I can only hope this experience will continue. Susan Cerulean has captured the essence of this most graceful of birds in Tracking Desire, a beautifully written and intensely personal testimony to reawakened wonder and wildness. Let us hope this book will stimulate redoubled efforts to protect and restore this vanishing, feathered treasure."
—Reed F. Noss, author of Saving Nature’s Legacy

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“My memory is etched with a clear image of how that bird swung into view and hung over me, suspended like an angel, so starkly black and white, with its wide-scissored split of a tail.”

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?”

Page count: 192 pp.
Trim size: 5.25 x 8.5


List price: $19.95

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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.