Book of May


Book of May

The book of May is actually any book by Edwin Way Teale. I read A Naturalist Buys an Old Farm several years ago and felt like I was tramping along the farm paths right beside him and his wife, Nellie. Maybe it’s because my Mom’s name was Nellie, though she preferred to be called Nell and I’ve always loved that name. It’s that and more–he welcomes me into their world.

It’s the sense of solitude and peace and wonder that come through his writing. It’s the realization that he didn’t have all the answers either and that was just fine. On the second to last page he writes, “Given our outlook and our interests, it has been our closeness to nature, our daily existence on the edge of wildness that has made the most profound impression. Here we bought sunrises and violets and whippoorwills as well as woods and pastures. If you wonder if this life’s original sweetness did not wear away as time went on, if this life did not become more tame and dull with closer acquaintance, I have news, and the news is good. After a decade and a half, this life is still as satisfying, still as near the heart’s desire, the last minute as fine as the first. Our acres remain filled with freshness and surprise as though we were visitors, newcomers, rather than long-time owners of the land.”

As I typed that paragraph, I thought of my friends, Jinny and Will, and their love for their land (that I covet) and how their daily encounters are filled with freshness and surprise.

Currently, I’m reading Springtime in Britain and traveling along on the hedge-lined roads with Edwin and Nellie. As is my habit, I turn up the bottom corners of pages that contain words, sentences, even paragraphs that sing to me. I’ve also been known to write in margins.

From Springtime in Britian: “The song of a bird may be an enticement for a mate. It may be a warning to trespassers on its territory. But why so musical? Would not barring notes or guttural sounds or shrill and piercing whistles achieve as well these ends? Why does the enticement and the warning have to be so melodious, so moving, so beautiful? All we can say with our sense of wonder aroused, is that it, like the delicate perfume of the wildflower, is part of nature’s endless employment of beauty to achieve its utilitarian ends.”

My May Day Celebration comes to mind, but what I also love is that this man who knew and understood so much, questioned everything and acknowledged wonder.

A Naturalist Buys an Old Farm, 1974, and Springtime in England, 1970, by Edwin Way Teale. They are difficult to come by, unless you know the proprietors of Bridgton Books, who will do their best to locate any title.

4 thoughts on “Book of May

  1. Your fond reviews of Teale’s books remind me of my younger years when Teale was standard reading in our house. They were such a normal part of home that I forget how influential and beautiful they are. Thanks for the reminder.

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  2. I read “A Naturalist Buys an Old Farm” when I was much younger, probably 40 years ago… I, also, was entranced with his careful descriptions of his peaceful wonder at the world around him. I learned that one did not have to travel to exotic and faraway places to experience entrancement and adventure at the surroundings. I should say, that conviction was confirmed for me: an important recognition for me at a young age. I enjoy new sights and sounds as much as anyone, but I also know that it is impossible to be sated with the everyday… there is no such thing. The world is alive, changing, ephemeral, bursting. Annie Dillard, who turned 70 this week, opened my eyes even further a few years later. I don’t think they will ever quite close.

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