a childhood saved

A Naturalist's Notebook

When I was 14-15 years old, I wrote a series of 23 essays as a weekly assignment for my high school English class. I called the series "A Naturalist's Notebook." Naturalist's Notebook Table of Contents

Winter Journal: January 30, 1974

Purple Prose Alert! Sometimes my essays got a bit too lyrical. My nature writing was heavily influenced by the books I was reading at the time, along with essays and articles that I read in back issues of Audubon magazine. This piece and those that follow are also shorter than the previous ones: my English teachers shortened the weekly writing assignment from two pages to one.

When January dies out, the silent meadows and still forests are expectant. Signs of the coming spring are all around, but there is still another month of hardship. Skunk cabbage hoods poke their uncertain heads above the snow and slush. Pussy willow buds are tightly packed—some have a few gray furry catkins poking out. This is the time of year that things begin to change in the body and soul of the forest.

I watched a pileated woodpecker at work in a tall dead tree. Huge chips flew from the soft wood as he hammered his great bill. After he left, I picked up a piece of wood four inches long. It was comparable to that of an axe.

I walked a dozen paces and found the tracks of a deer, night-time visitor to the open swampy meadow. Raccoon tracks were visible in the mud by a little stream which babbled merrily.

By Furnace Brook, I stopped to listen: the roar of water, sighing of the great oak branches, and the singing of the streams that emptied into the brook.

Dusk was falling as I turned away and started up the winding pathway to home. But a sound which rang clearly and echoed against the hills stopped me. It was the cry of the pileated woodpecker, lord of the woods. The freedom of that untamed call entranced me for a moment. Then, my reverie broken, I wandered back through the woods to "civilization."

Next: "Places to Hike" February 6, 1974