a childhood saved
brad sitting by the pond


When I was 12 years old, I began keeping a journal and a sketchbook to chronicle the wildlife and natural events around my home near Croton-on-Hudson, New York. Back then, in the early 1970s, the house was surrounded by woodland: oaks and hickories, tulip poplars, sassafras in the undergrowth. Our three acres sloped down to a small lake and I spent hours at the water's edge watching the life within.

I had long been interested in nature, starting with a typical five-year-old's fascination with dinosaurs. When my father brought me to meet my first-grade teacher a few days before the beginning of school, she asked if I had learned to spell yet. My father handed me a piece of chalk and I wrote "Tyrannosaurus rex" on the blackboard. Instead of the usual bedtime stories, I made my parents read me Ruth Moore's Man, Time, and Fossils and Darwin's The Origin of Species and the Descent of Man. Not that I understood much, but I was dying for anything that even mentioned dinosaurs or prehistory.

After dinosaurs I became obsessed with whales and dolphins, soon counterbalanced by a sudden fascination with insects. I started an insect collection,using guide books to identify everything I caught. Collecting insects meant killing them in a jar with ammonia fumes, and I stopped after a particularly hardy beetle came back to life after I'd already pinned it and placed it in a cigar box next to my previous victims. I opened the box one day to find the beetle's legs weakly flailing the air. I was horrified. The beetle incident drained all my desire to collect, and from then on I focused strictly on observation.

yellow-billed cuckoo, drawn in 1973

Birds were next on my list of serial obsessions, followed by reptiles and amphibians, and then wildflowers. I read every book in my school's library on these subjects, moved on to the public library, and then borrowed more books from friends. Reading about nature had almost as powerful an effect on me as being in it, and when I saw an animal or plant that I'd previously only read about it was like meeting a celebrity.

It was inevitable that I would want to record my observations, in words and in drawings. My head was full of the flowing prose of the nature writers I'd read, and I admired wildlife artists such as Louis Aggasiz Fuertes and George Miksch Sutton. The annotated sketches of H. Wayne Trimm, art director and illustrator of the New York State Conservationist magazine, inspired me to start up my own sketchbooks to record my observations. At the same time, I kept a written journal and maintained charts to record the arrival dates of migratory birds in spring and the blossoming dates of wildflowers. I got up before dawn to sit in the chill, wet grass and wrote down the order in which each species of bird arose and began singing. I put my written records into a looseleaf notebook, entitled "Everything Under the Sun and Some Things Over It."

The journals document my observations over four years, from 1971 to the beginning of 1975. The field notes include data tables, field trip reports, and other devices I dreamed up to record my observations during the same period. The sketchbooks provide another view, more poetic and artistic, of what I was keeping track of in my journals, and "A Naturalist's Notebook" reveals my first attempts at creative nature writing in my early teens. The drawings that illustrate this site are from my sketchbooks, and were done when I was 12-15 years old.

spiderwort, drawn in 1973

If you're a kid, I hope you find some inspiration in these pages. If you're a parent or teacher, please bring these writings and sketches to the attention of your children or students. Feel free to ask questions or let me know what you think by

Thanks for visiting.

-Brad Hurley