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Review of Nature Notes from Maine

Ed Robinson
August 27, 2018

By Fredric Price, Publisher, Fig Tree Books

So why would a New Yorker (a real one!) who doesn’t camp and whose life in the outdoors consists mainly of playing ball with my dogs in the yard and watching them spelunking for voles and rabbits in the woods be interested in buying, reading, and then commenting on Nature Notes from Maine? Maybe it’s because I’m a ‘Maniac’ at heart. You see, in the late nineteen forties, when I was three and four, my older sister and I spent a month both summers at Mrs. D’s place on Swan’s Island. She was our nursery school teacher and although we were told we were going to camp, it was as unconventional as her school, with both houses being more of an informal place to gather where ‘unstructured play,’ a term not in use then, was how we spent our days.

At the camp, we’d get up whenever we heard the dogs howl when they ran after a deer or bark incessantly as they tried to move stones in the old boulder walls to flush out a chipmunk. I remember mornings on a ridge watching seals laze in the water or on outcroppings near the shore. We tried to catch frogs, spotted birds nesting, observed the lobstermen tending pots, picked wild berries, waded in the vernal pools with the ducks, and told Mrs. D we’d seen beavers at work, only to realize many years later that it was likely that they were racoons. I never saw an otter, moose or skunk (and haven’t in the years since) but I’m eager to return to Maine to catch a glimpse of one — to which a friend commented that such a ‘quest’ would be like a certain Monty Python movie.

But reading Nature Notes from Maine wasn’t just an opportunity for me to revel in delicious childhood memories. This is one beautiful book. Part naturalist guide, landscape travelogue, historical guide, and memoir, it packs an enormous amount of information about the world we live in (and take for granted), written in an informative style that is suffused with insight and humor.

To wit: “In Eastern Europe, folk tales advise keeping an open aspen stake handy for killing vampires and werewolves.” “The source of those nocturnal screams (of fisher cats) was more likely a dying rabbit, a red fox, or a goofball teenager.” “You have to admire an animal (coyote) that has managed to thrive despite every possible human scheme to eliminate them.” “Napoleon had a fondness for honeybees, associating them with immortality and resurrection.” (Who knew?)

And the photographs! Where to start? My favorite is the coyote, but the Eastern Bluebird, the beaver, the honeybee, and the fox are glorious to linger over.

My only disappointment was that it ended. I wanted more. Ed Robinson has an amazing capability to translate what he sees to allow us not only to see it with him but to feel it as well. I guess I’ve got a new bucket list—Maine, here I come!