|Woody Woodpecker, or "Elvis in Feathers"|
If you are of the bird watching persuasion—in other words, one of an estimated 70 million in America alone—you may cherish your favs, from Sibley to those good ol’ portable $5 Golden Books paperbacks. But the inventor of the truly modern field guide, credited with educating America about the flappable species, is Roger Tory Peterson (1908-1996), celebrated in the spiffy centennial tribute, Birdwatcher (2008). Elizabeth Rosenthal, with chops in both journalism and law, emphasizes how Peterson’s aims transcended mere documentation, identification and illustration of the feathered set by making some of the earliest waves in the environmental protection movement, alongside the likes of John Muir, Gifford Pinchot, or Rachel Carson.
Peterson’s personal trajectory is especially poignant considering that his family’s misfortunes landed him in a New York state mill by the age of ten. Following his bliss with a lot of dogged footwork led him to hobnob with the greatest avian illustrators and ornithologists of the early 20th century—until he became one of them. Ultimately, Peterson received every major American natural science award, several Nobel Prize nominations, a Presidential Medal of Freedom, a slew of honorary doctorates, and yes, his own institute. Peterson’s passion fueled a determination to improve the dense, poorly detailed guides available during his youth, eventually revolutionizing the conception of field guides that served the general public as well as professionals with a practical identification system. In turn, Peterson’s ceaseless field trips brought the plight of our disappearing avians, and their habitats, to the fore.
|Roger Tory Peterson: Close up and personal|
|(If you get a macaw you have to buy 70 years' worth of feed)|
|"New" 19th century ways of presenting bird samples|
Dawn Light: Dancing with Cranes and Other Ways to Start the Day (2009). a poet, essayist and naturalist, Diane Ackerman has contributed a steady stream of poetry books, non-fictions, and kid’s books since 1976, as well as a Cornell dissertation overseen in part by the scientist Carl Sagan, and various opinion pieces in the New York Times and the New Yorker. In recent years, much of her effort has gone into caring for her husband after his stroke, and learning how to meditate on the showstoppers in nature, history, literature and religion during the quieter moments. Amidst several dozen short meditative reflections in Dawn Light, organized by the seasons, Ackerman contemplates the pleasures of field guides, woodpecker tattoos, and the metaphors revealed in the simple formation of words, or the migratory habits of each season’s birds. Her writing, at once exacting and luxurious, is as freed and as familiar as, well, a crane’s dance.
|Roger Tory Peterson's tools and trade|
Karen L. Mulder is an equal opportunity historian, even if history is for the birds, and recently spotted an indigo bunting on her deck in Virginia. Exceedingly rare and beautiful!