When Edwin Way Teale and his wife Nellie left their Connecticut farm to explore the wider natural world, no small trip would do. They needed the geography of an entire continent. Over twenty years, they made four cross continent trips and published four books. They first drove North with the Spring from Florida to New England, documenting the seasonal changes along the way. Journey into Summer took them into the great plains, the heartland of America.
Autumn Across America began in New England and ended on the west coast. For the final installment of the four-book series, Wandering Through Winter, they began with a whale watch in Baja, California and ended in Maine after a diagonal cut across the continent.
Teale had published books before, documenting growing up among the Lake Michigan dunes of Indiana and his purchase and repurposing of a rundown farm in Connecticut. That farm was home to he and his wife Nellie and later became an Audubon sanctuary. None of these achievements would predict his twenty-year project which resulted in these four books, his Pulitzer Prize winning series, The American Seasons.
I can’t imagine what possessed them to make such a journey and undertake such a project. Perhaps it was the death of their son, David, in World War II. Perhaps it was the need to document what even then was a fast disappearing natural world. I have heard that much of what Teale wrote about is now gone. This is undoubtedly true, and a sad reality it is. Nevertheless, there are a few bright spots. The White (Whooping) Cranes of which he wrote were nearly extinct at the time, with less than 100 remaining. Through concerted recovery efforts, there are now about 600. The Bald Eagle and Peregrine Falcon have since recovered from low populations.
The great advantage of older nature books like these is that they provide a baseline for comparison to the current state of the world. Is nature disappearing or recovering? Perhaps some aspects recover as others go away. A look at the past can help us know the present better and even know a bit about the future.
Next Entry, Coming Soon "What About the South?"