Exploring the Last Green Valley: Remembering Teale and D-Day this Week
I am partial to June. It is my birth month and that of my mother, too. It is also the month of the Summer Solstice and when school summer vacation begins.
My memories of summer vacation run deep. Summer meant Boy Scout camp, hikes and cookouts and dreamy, hot days barefoot and footloose in the woods, fields and ponds near my home.
Summer vacation was also when our region’s most beloved naturalist, photographer and writer began a lifetime of fascination and appreciation for the natural world, and today is the 120th anniversary of his birth.
Edwin Way Teale spent his boyhood holidays at his grandparent’s farm called Lone Oak in Indiana’s dune country. He returned there every summer until he was 15. He details his adventures in a delightful book, “Dune Boy: The Early Years of a Naturalist,” first published in 1943.
“Inch by inch, I knew our farm. I knew its chip-laden woodyard where I collected kindling and gathered stove-wood for the kitchen range. I knew its vast mow where I jumped from beams into the hay, sending up multitudes of glinting motes of dust. I knew its ditches, their sides filled with massed green of juicy spearmint. I knew its spring where horses drank from a mossy trough formed of a hollowed-out poplar log. I knew its north woods, a mysterious realm of little trails and piles of yellow sand dug from burrows, and its even more mysterious marshlands, with their stagnant water, their tangled vegetation, and their strange inhabitants.
“Dune Boy” was reissued in 2002 by Bibliopola Press, UConn Co-op and distributed by University Press of New England. You can find it online and at the Connecticut Audubon Society in Pomfret. Teale published more than 30 books, including the very popular series about the seasons – “North With the Spring,” “Autumn Across America,” “Journey Into Summer” and “Wandering Through Winter,” which won the 1996 Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction. As each title implies, the series about the four seasons is based on thousands of miles of road trips across the country documenting the advancing seasons.
Though most of Teale’s books are out of print, I have read many of them and have been able to find them for sale online. I consider Teale among the great pillars of nature writing. Like Henry David Thoreau and John Burroughs, his writing is both poetic and grounded in the detailed reality of the natural world, a combination that makes his writing inspirational and informational.
In 1959, Teale and his wife and collaborator, Nellie Donovan Teale, moved from the advancing urbanization of Long Island to an antique, country farmhouse in Hampton. They lived out their lives at their beloved home they named Trail Wood, where Teale wrote several books, including one of my favorites “A Naturalist Buys an Old Farm.”
They bequeathed the property to the Connecticut Audubon Society, and the 168-acre Edwin Way Teale Memorial Sanctuary is now well-known to those seeking the peace and inspiration of the natural world.
Today from 1-4 p.m. the public is invited to Trail Wood for a 120th birthday celebration and to meet the new property caretakers. Visit Connecticut Audubon’s events page on its website for more details.
Teale may soon get the attention he deserves. Richard Telford, a Woodstock Academy teacher, naturalist and writer, is working on a new biography of Teale he hopes will be available in two years. He is pouring through the voluminous archive of Teale’s papers located at UConn and that takes time, as do all important works worthy of consideration. Perhaps Telford’s work will allow a new generation to discover Teale and his writings.
This week also marks a second special day of remembrance with Thursday marking the 75th commemoration of D-Day. The early morning hours of June 6, 1944 brought the massive naval armada, amphibious assault and paratrooper invasion of Europe. Under fire from heavy German defensive positions, United States and Allied forces landed thousands of soldiers and materials of war on the beaches of Normandy. That fateful day marked the beginning of the end of Nazi Germany and the eventual defeat of fascism that wracked the world during the mid-20th century.
My father took part in the Normandy invasion. He went ashore with the “first wave” of Army engineers as a doctor. On the beach he treated the wounded and dying, and as the Allied forces moved off the beach and inland, he staffed a field hospital treating wounded soldiers arriving from the front.
Edwin and Nellie Teale’s son and only child, David, also fought in World War II. He enlisted in the Army in 1943 and was transferred to the German front in the fall of 1944. He was listed as missing in action for weeks until confirmed killed in action.
Each of Teale’s books about the seasons is dedicated to “David Who Traveled with Us in our Hearts.” The road trips Edwin and Nellie took across country for the four-book series were taken, in part, to cope with the heartbreak of their son’s tragic death.
Teale’s final book about the seasons “Wandering Through Winter” ends with this paragraph:
“I set down these final words in the dusk of an early spring day. You are reading them when, where, under what conditions? Now the light – my light here, your light wherever you are – falls on the last page of the last book of the last season. We have traveled far together. We have watched the successive seasons flow and merge and intermingle. We have seen the beauty and the land through the whole cycle of the year. To those of you who have journeyed so long, who have traversed the four seasons in our company, to all farewell.
For here ends the story of our travels
through the spring and summer
and autumn and winter of
The American Year.”
I hope you’ll join me today to celebrate the life of Edwin Way Teale. He belongs to the world of exceptional nature writers and he belongs to those of us lucky enough to live where he lived and worked — right here in The Last Green Valley.
I hope you’ll also take a time Thursday to remember those brave young soldiers who jumped from aircraft and amphibious vehicles to beat back the dark forces of fascism. This first week of June is truly a week of celebration and remembrance.
Bill Reid is the chief ranger of The Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor and has lived in the region for more than 35 years. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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