I've been drawing recently from Rachel Carson's short but seminal book, The Sense of Wonder. While not a political bombshell like, Silent Spring or her ocean themed like her "sea" triology it is a poignant look at how adults can mentor children in nature. And, as if by decree of the gods of tote bags this aired last month on PBS' American Experience. It's wonderful program and worth a watch.
"Artists live with one foot in two worlds. The world of the known and the world of the imagined. Zallinger, took knowledge of the known world and wove it tightly to all things unknown. The brontosaurus wallows in the lake, displacing the water, surrounded by horsetails and ferns, like a hippo in Londolozi or a Moose in Baxter. Everything seems at once so real, the blooming magnolias and rhododendrons, sweet and familiar like June, the soil and clouds, the same earth on which we walk today. And yet the entire scene is outside anything the human eye ever looked upon. Some 65 million years covered in just six feet of poster paper, pinned to my wall. I realized that this image imparted to me the freedom to live in two worlds, one of scientific reality the other of wild imagination."
While I don't hammer away on an old typewriter or go through exactly thirteen sharpened pencils each time I sit down to write, I do have one classic writing stereotype-- the trashcan with crumpled papers. Unlike the movies, I am happy to say this can is filled with notes that I have moved from pen and paper into the digital world, the crumpled balls only appear in the basket once they have been integrated into my draft on the computer and do not represent long nights of hair pulling and poetry. My trashcan is also missing the stereotypical tiny basketball hoop, cigarette butts and bourbon bottles although there is a sliver of vice in there... an empty Good n' Plenty box.
Wild America, is a recounting of the 30,000 mile journey around North America that Roger Tory Peterson made with his good friend James Fisher. This book is part travel narrative, part bird watchers dream vacation, and most definitely an eyewitness account of the most pressing conservation concerns in the Country. Their descriptions of visiting areas famous for natural diversity and beauty took them to the sea cliffs of Newfoundland, the swamps of the Gulf coast, and the distant islands of the Aleutians. In 2000 science writer, Scott Weidensaul recounts Peterson and Fisher's journey in his book, Return to Wild America. Weidensaul uses the original text, influential to him as a youth, to narrate his journey, retracing the steps, and paying witness to changes to the landscapes that Peterson and Fisher had visited some fifty years prior. The two books stand alone but make a great set, perfect for your next 30k mile road trip.
No way around it. Writing a book is like cricket. You have to show up day after day and play a game for which you don't fully understand the rules, and after a long time somebody wins.
I've been exploring the concept that our perception of the natural world, being based on our own life's experience, is being measured against a false baseline. That is, what we consider a normal or even diminished number of birds under our feeder is based on the amount of birds we saw as a child or whenever we first put up that feeder. This change in the number of birds being judged against our own personal baseline (childhood memory) does not reflect the actual change in bird species over hundreds of years. We can be lured into a false sense of normalcy when in fact we are watching a great decline. One fascinating study was conducted by Loren McClenachan who used photos from fishing tours in Key West, FL to make visual this trend. The look of satisfaction on the faces of the fishermen remains static, the size of the catch does not. The study was examined by NPR and summarized nicely by Robert Krulwich.
Beyond books I loved any television program I could find about nature or animals. Wild America was a constant favorite. Dealing exclusively with North American wildlife I had a soft spot for the show's namesake and front man. He involved his family, personal home, and a conservation message after each episode. The fancy sweaters and coiffed beard helped too. What was that guy's name anyhow...
As I unfold the early influences that pushed me towards nature I am revisiting some of the books that shaped my childhood passion. My Side of the Mountain, by Jean Craighead George is at the top of the list!
I made a visit (more of a pilgrimage) to see an image that hung on the wall of my childhood room. Rudolph Zallinger’s room length mural, "The Age of Reptiles" is a time lapse snapshot of evolutionary history from the Devonian Period through the Cretaceous Period. It fills one long wall at the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History, and for me represents the wild, imaginative spirit that lies at the heart of science.
I just purchased a copy of Scrivener, a wonderful word processing software (recommended to me by my good friend Tim). It's designed by writers for writers and I love the way I can write, organize, and move chapters, paragraphs, even sentences seamlessly, no more cutting, pasting, and digging through folders and files. For more about Scrivener visit their website: https://www.literatureandlatte.com/scrivener.php