Natural Connections: Sharp Eyes – Higher Telegram

Winter often brings fun times when clean drifts of snow become the canvas for nature’s works of art.

If I’m not lost in the tunnel of my thoughts, I might notice the shadows of twigs making purple lace against the white or the detail of a paper seed or frost-edged trail. Sometimes it helps to have a friend to make their own unique observations.

Earlier today, I started digging through files for photos of these wintry delights. Soon I will be sharing them with local artist Janet Moore’s Wheel of the Year: Four Seasons class. This virtual classroom will meet nine times over the coming year to create a unique work of art chronicling the seasons in your own woods.

Just outside my office door, colleagues were clamoring about delicacies of a different kind. A generous member of the museum offered us a few boxes of old books. I was expecting 1950s nature guides and a big stack of Sigurd Olson books, but mixed in with these were cloth bound covers with shiny gold lettering and copyrights going back in the 1800s.

I lifted one from the pile, enjoying the texture of the midnight blue cover and the story implied by the frayed corners. “Sharp Eyes” shone gold. Was it a story of far-sighted raptors? Or hyper-focused wolves? Inside, the subtitle gave more clues: “A fifty-two-week hiker’s calendar among insects, birds, and flowers.”

So it was a book about phenology – the study of when specific events occur in nature from year to year at a specific place. The short chapters and black and white illustrations reminded me of my own “Natural Connections” books.

As I was reading through the introduction, a sentence caught my eye.

[Sharp Eyes is] “a cordial recommendation and invitation to walk with me through the woods and fields, and reap the perpetual ‘harvest with a quiet eye’, which nature everywhere bestows; to witness with me the strange revelations of this wild nature masked ball [masquerade ball]; laugh, admire, study, meditate, philosophize between the lines – question, and always rejoice and give thanks!
Gibson illustrated his own books in great detail, including this sketch of birch catkin bracts on snow.

Artwork by WM. Hamilton Gibson

I laughed a bit at the verbose style of the time, but still felt a kinship with the author. We write in the same genre, and with the same purpose. I took the author on the invitation, but who were they?

Flipping through a few more rambling pages, I found his signature at the bottom: W. Hamilton Gibson, Washington, Conn., July 10, 1891. A quick search tells me that the death of Gibson’s father had forced him to find a paid job as an insurance salesman, but which lasted less than a year before he returned to writing and illustrating nature. I can’t say I blame him.

With a look at the snowdrifts outside my window, I returned to the last section of the book, where a whimsical version of WINTER endured a blizzard on the page. How would Gibson’s observations in western Connecticut compare to mine?

“But the boys and girls may well put away their sleds for a ride with me this morning,” Gibson wrote. “This snow is good for more than coasting…” Oh, it’s now, I laughed, thinking back to how much fun I’d had writing about the natural history of sledding.

“Those who love a good storybook will do well to study snow, for they can indeed read it like a book. It’s a big blank page recounting the actions of little savages that few of us ever see.

I nodded in agreement, thinking of the many photos of mouse and bobcat tracks that now filled my file for Janet’s class, and the wolf tracks still visible on my driveway.

“They write their autobiography from day to day… but they are not responsible for all the singular hieroglyphics that one sees on this large white page. The wind often takes hold and, after a light fresh snowfall, plays pretty pranks with the drooping stems of some of the withered grasses.

Last winter I struggled to find anything nice to write about gray squirrels attacking my bird feeders, but Gibson had no such prejudice and wrote, “Almost every pleasant day we we are sure of it if our eyes are decent enough ways…Let’s observe our squirrel attentively. There he goes in graceful bounds through the snow, his feathery tail sensitive in every movement expressing his homage to the cutie line.

Emily Stone mug
Emily Stone

Contributed / Emily Stone

After that, I had to put the book aside and tackle other projects. But it was a happy moment of connection. I know I will soon join Mr. Gibson for another walk. This man in the blue coat and the gold trimmings will be a friend who will help me make unique, although also endless, observations during the four seasons.

Emily’s second award-winning book, Natural Connections: Dreaming of an Elfin Skimmer, is available for purchase at

www.cablemuseum.org/books

and also at your local independent bookstore.

For more than 50 years, the Cable Natural History Museum has served to connect you to the Northwoods. Follow us on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and

cablemuseum.org

to see what we are doing.

About Nell Love

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