When our daughter Laura led us through the Thomas Sadler Roberts Bird Sanctuary just north of Lake Harriet in Minneapolis in the summer of 2013, I had never heard of the nine-year-old boy who moved with his family to Minnesota in 1867 and grew up to be a leading doctor in the city. As a boy, he and his friends wandered the woods and canoed the lakes of the area, noticing the birds, about whom Roberts had learned much from his bird-fancying father. In A Love Affair with Birds: The Life of Thomas Sadler Roberts, Sue Leaf tells how Roberts balanced his dedication to medicine and his patients with his love of birds.
Roberts accomplished much in his life. Before medical school, he worked as a land examiner and civil engineer. Working as a doctor for over half a century, he treated many patients, delivered many babies, helped found the local medical society, and helped build hospitals. As a ornithologist, he started birding clubs with his friends, led many bird walks, taught ornithology at the University of Minnesota, collected species for the natural history museum on the University campus, served as museum director, and eventually led the effort to build what is now the Bell Museum of Natural History. He may be most remembered for his two-volume The Birds of Minnesota which was published in 1930.
On one level, A Love Affair with Birds can be read as a tribute to an exemplary life. The author, however, offers the reader more than that. Her section on Roberts' medical career serves as a compelling history of health care in Minnesota, spanning the era in which Roberts road a horse to reach his rural patients or sometimes caught a trolley in town to his mature years when he rode with his chauffeur. The growth and development of Minneapolis runs through the story. Readers learn about the planning and building of hospitals and museums. Most of all, Leaf tells the story birds and the birding community of Minnesota.
Having been to Minneapolis over a dozen times now with prospects for many more visits, wanting to see all the Minnesota birds, I enjoyed A Love Affair with Birds immensely.
Leaf, Sue. A Love Affair with Birds: The Life of Thomas Sadler Roberts. University of Minnesota Press, 2013. 271p. ISBN 9780816675647.