'An Eye on the Sparrow' book is a family affair

Most writers toil away in solitude. For many years Sally Roth was one of them, and during that time she produced 20-some definitive books on weeds, herb gardening, perennials, attracting songbirds to your garden, butterflies, hummingbirds and natural landscaping. She did extensive research and carved an important niche for herself among gardeners, naturalists and bird lovers. She’s also a contributing editor for Birds and Blooms magazine.

In the creation of her latest book, “An Eye on the Sparrow: The Bird Lover’s Bible,” Roth worked as part of a team with husband Matt Bartmann. Roth describes the book as “a family affair.” It’s an encyclopedic volume that uses Bible verses as the jumping-off point to examine the science behind every mention of birds in the Scriptures. More than an informative bird book, Roth calls it “a bridge that creates a conversation, a common ground, between those who revere the Bible and those who dismiss it.

The idea had been simmering in Roth’s head for 20 years, but it didn’t see the light of day until she moved into the Upper Buckhorn Canyon and became part of the Bartmann clan. Together they researched, wrote, edited, illustrated, art directed and designed the book during the last year.

Roth grew up in eastern Pennsylvania. “I should have been born 100 years ago and lived on 100 acres,” she insists. Vibrant and articulate, she’s nevertheless happiest when she can live in the solitude of the natural world and pick and choose her social moments.

She traveled a long road to Buckhorn Canyon, one that led first to the Oregon Coast and then to the tiny town of New Harmony, a Utopian community in Indiana. In an attempt to bring the people of her small community together, she decided to raise money to repair an old town clock, beloved by all, and she began by offering up a giant zucchini for auction. Her plan was just goofy enough to attract the national media. Bartmann heard the story on NPR and sent her an e-mail.

One thing led to another, and before she knew it, Roth paid Bartmann a visit at his home in the canyon. By that time they had chatted and e-mailed enough to know that they were kindred souls. In September 2012, they married. “We share the same brain,” Roth says of her relationship with Bartmann. “We just have different bodies.”

Never having collaborated on a book before, Roth soon discovered the pleasure of sharing tasks. Matt’s dad, a skilled calligrapher who had mostly given it up, was persuaded to hand letter the title and chapter headings. His mom, Heather Dieter Bartmann, a nationally-known wildlife artist, had been making pottery in recent years. She returned to her paints and drawing board to create the stunning cover painting and 30-some illustrations that grace the pages of the book.

Roth and Matt researched relentlessly together, using on-line resources as much as possible and going so far as to track down an old book on the different species of doves in order to figure out just which kind of dove returned the olive leaf to Noah in his ark, indicating that land had emerged following the flood.

Bird lovers and Bible lovers alike are at risk for getting hooked on this book. The style is casual, light and fun. It’s as if Roth is having a personal conversation with the reader and cannot resist sharing her enthusiasm. She shares her knowledge in small, easy-to-digest chunks, but make no mistake, she’s a stickler for details and there’s an extensive bibliography to prove it.

Roth describes the writing of the book, which in the beginning she thought would be easy, as “like working on a 5,000 piece jigsaw puzzle with a eureka moment as each small piece slipped into place A pleasure, for sure, to put all the pieces together. But easy? What was I thinking?”

Her early readers say things like “a rich resource for understanding our language and literature, and the interdependence of people and wild creatures.” And: “Truly a thought-provoking read, for not just the bird lover, but the science-minded, the religious, the agnostic, the inquisitive for anyone who is interested in seeing what is not always obvious in the ancient writings of the Bible.”

For more information, visit www.sallyroth.com.

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