Monday, April 7, 2014

Naturalists Buy the Farm

In the last few months, I've read two books about two naturalists buying farms with accounts of the animals, plants, and experiences on those farms.  Both books were written by famous naturalists who dedicated vast hours to naturalist observation.  Both farms are also now animal sanctuaries that you can visit.  The subject of the books are similar, but the writing styles are pretty different; one leans toward flowing short stories from the heart and the other more toward a series of essays of thought.  I enjoyed both books and was inspired to do my own observations.

Teale's farm house

The first book I read is by a local author, Edwin Way Teale, and the old farm is only about 8 miles from my house in Hampton, CT.  I enjoyed reading A Naturalist Buys an Old Farm because it is about the area to which we have just moved, and it has given me an idea of what I might expect to see in my own backyard. Teale is the author that uses stories to describe life on the farm and surrounding rural community.  He tells of birds migrating, woodcocks displaying in the spring, ferns and flowers, of all the extra animals that come to the bird feeders in winter, and many more experiences.  Teale also includes the history and people of the rural area with funny analogies.  I found the writing style easy to read and could sense Teale's love of his home.  I think I would have enjoyed this book even if I did not live in the 'neighborhood' of his old farm because Teale's earnestness for nature is infectious.

A bluebird house that is not in use in February 

The farm is now owned by the Audubon Society where several nature programs are hosted each month.  I enjoyed an outing to see the farm house, Teale's study, and some of the trails mentioned in his book.  When I was there in February the snow was deep, but there were thousands of small insects called springtails!  And springtails were mentioned hopping in the snow were in the book!

A Natualist on a Tropical Farm was written by a famous ornithologist, Alexander F. Skutch, co-author of A Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica.  Skutch's style of writing seems to be closer to essays than stories, and is  thoughtful and personal.  He dedicates several chapters to describing wild birds of his farm in Costa Rica, and the time he spent observing their nesting and general behavior.  Even if you didn't know that Skutch wrote the Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica, you would soon realize that he was a dedicated naturalist keen on the details of bird behavior.  He also writes about the farm work from planting crops and harvesting, to dealing with crop thieves both animal and human.  Each domestic animal on the farm gets it's own chapter, but the chicken chapter is my favorite.  Skutch also voices his concern for the future not in a loud preachy way, but with insights and thoughts gained over the years.   He expresses concern about the changes to rural Costa Rica that he saw since first arriving on his farm.  Skutch's essays not only introduce one to an amazing natural world, but also to philosophies that give value to nature.

Costa Rica is a naturalist's wonderland and is a popular destination for people who enjoy birds, frogs, butterflies, and tropical plants.  The Farm, Los Cusingos Neotropical Santuary, is a stop on many birder's vacation tours.  Here is a link to one blogger's visit to the sanctuary with nice photos.   I would like to visit Costa Rica someday, but for now I enjoyed reading about the tropical farm especially this winter with all it's snow.