Window on Nature
By Lowell & Kaye Christie, F47246
Edwin Way Teale, who lived from 1899 to 1980, couldn’t have imagined the impact his writing would have on the people who have read and reread his works. Of course, after writing 26 books and editing another five, he could safely assume that they weren’t just used for display on the coffee table. But could this writer know how much he influenced his readers’ lives? We don’t think so.
Teale’s fascination with nature began in early childhood, ignited during the summers he spent on his grandparents’ farm in Indiana near what is known today as the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. Everything about nature interested this youngster “” from the movement of tides to the transformation of tadpoles into frogs. How do we know that? From reading his book Dune Boy, which he wrote in 1943.
For much of his life, Teale lived on Long Island and worked in New York City. His career as a writer/photographer became official when his first book was published in 1930. He was still writing, thinking, and planning when he died 50 years later.
Our exposure to Teale’s writing began more than a quarter century ago when Lowell came home with a paperback copy of A Naturalist Buys an Old Farm. One reading and we both were hooked. We still are.
Among his published books are the four he wrote about his seasonal travels in the United States: North With The Spring (1951); Autumn Across America (1956); Journey Into Summer (1960); and the Pulitzer Prize-winning Wandering Through Winter (1965). These books have traveled with us as we crisscrossed the country in our own years of full-time travel.
But before living the life he dreamed of, Teale paid his dues “” and his bills “” by working as an assignment writer/editor for a magazine based in New York City. But neither he nor his wife, Nellie, was cut out for urban life. They envisioned being surrounded by nature instead of people, traveling full-time as he wrote books about their travels. Sound familiar?
When Edwin was in his early 40s, the Teales left Long Island for a farm in Connecticut. Yes, he left a good job, but by that time he’d already had five of his own books published, and several more were taking shape in his mind.
Edwin Way Teale’s early nature writing focused almost entirely on insects. He was already equipped with the insights gained during his childhood, during which time he spent hours watching them and learning about their own small world. He developed considerable skill with a camera by taking closeups of insect life. In Near Horizons he wrote: “Even the commonest of insects, once we enter the Alice-in-Wonderland realm they inhabit, become engrossingly interesting … and an exciting adventure of the mind.”
The previously mentioned Dune Boy came out in 1943, a year after Near Horizons. Our copy came from the home of Edwin Way Teale, from the hands of his wife, Nellie. Our own travels had led us to Connecticut, where the couple had settled after leaving New York.
We had heard of Teale’s death, and that the 156-acre “Old Farm” was to be preserved by the Connecticut Audubon Society. A quick check of a local phone book resulted in a call to find out whether Trail Wood (named for the multitude of trails on the property) was open to visitors. Surprisingly, Nellie Teale answered the phone.
Three minutes into the conversation, and we were invited to tea that afternoon. Any friend of her husband’s, if only through his books, was welcome in her home. Nellie lived alone “” they had no living children. Their only son, David, was killed in World War II, and from that time on, all of Teale’s books were dedicated to him.
We still treasure the memory of being ushered into the living room. After sharing delightful stories of her life with Edwin, Nellie excused herself and left the room. A few minutes later she reappeared with a book in her hand, Dune Boy. Inside the cover she had written a note thanking us for bringing her the words of respect and love that Edwin’s writing brought to us as lovers of nature. She signed and dated it October 14, 1983. Looking at that book today, and reading the words she had penned, reminds us again of how we loved Teale’s writings as we traveled, and how much we love reading them again and again.
We have seven of the 26 books authored by Teale, and they have traveled widely with us over the years. As we explored this beautiful land we could easily imagine Edwin Way Teale sharing our travels as we shared his via his books.
Finally, while researching Teale and his books on the Web, we ran into this comment: “Edwin Way Teale became one of America’s best-loved naturalists because he was able, through his writing, to take others along on his distant voyages of discovery into worlds which are as close as their own backyards.” Ralph Waldo Emerson once stated that each community in America ought to have a position called the town naturalist. Teale was, for many people, America’s naturalist.
Because Edwin and Nellie Teale had no living offspring, they agreed that all of Edwin’s books, research, and notes would be donated to places of learning. His home, Trail Wood, and the surrounding acreage went to the Connecticut Audubon Society when Nellie died in 1993, and the property is open to the public.
Below is a list of the 26 books written by Edwin Way Teale, in the order they were published. Curiosity brought us to check www.amazon.com to see whether any were listed there. Half of his books are available either new or used, proving that we aren’t the only ones who treasure his writing and his take on nature.
Book of Gliders (1930)
Grassroot Jungles (1937)
Boys Book of Photography (1939)
The Golden Throng (1940)
Near Horizons (1942)
Dune Boy (1943)
The Lost Woods (1945)
Days Without Time (1948)
Byways to Adventure (1948)
North with the Spring (1951)
The Junior Book of Insects (1953)
Circle of the Seasons (1953)
Insect Friends (1955)
Autumn Across America (1956)
Adventures in Nature (1959)
Journey Into Summer (1960)
The Lost Dog (1961)
The Strange Lives of Familiar Insects (1962)
Audubon’s Wildlife (1964)
Wandering Through Winter (1965)
Springtime in Britain (1970)
Photographs of American Nature (1972)
A Naturalist Buys an Old Farm (1974)
The American Seasons (1976)
A Walk Through the Year (1978)
A Conscious Stillness (1982; completed by Ann Zwinger from Teale’s notes after he passed away)