Chasing the Erratic Spotlight of Memory: Reexamining the Life and Writing of Edwin Way Teale

by Richard Telford

Author’s Note: Though the product of many hours of research, writing, and revision, this chapter is nevertheless a draft; it will be subject to revision as the larger book in which it will appear takes shape. This chapter follows the book’s prologue, posted last month. It is the fifth to be published on this site. The first three, published this past winter, were later chapters of the book, chronicling the Teales’ loss of their son David during wartime service in 1945. Those chapters can be accessed here. I welcome critical response to this work, either in the comment section below or through direct e-mail. I am grateful to the Archives and Special Collections staff for providing me the opportunity to share this work, and to the Woodstock Academy Board of Trustees for awarding me a sabbatical for the 2016-2017 school year. Contextual information about the project and manuscript can be found here.

 

Chapter 1: Chasing the Erratic Spotlight of Memory

 

Thinking of memory, it occurs to me what an erratic spotlight memory is, playing across the landscape of our past, picking out small areas, illuminating fragments of our experience. Out of a shrouded, shapeless limbo of forgotten things one experience suddenly comes to life.[i]

                                                                               Edwin Way Teale, The Hampton Journal, November 15, 1961

 

What did I know, what did I know

of love’s austere and lonely offices? [ii]

                                                                               Robert Hayden, from “Those Winter Sundays”

 

O sons of men,

You add the future to the future

But your sum is spoiled

By the grey cipher of death.

There is a Master

Who breathes upon armies,

Building a narrow and dark house for kings.[iii]

                                                                               From The Book of the Thousand Nights and One Night

 

On June 2, 1899, Clara Louise Way Teale gave birth to a son, her only child, Edwin Alfred Teale. The preceding winter had unleashed the Great Arctic Outbreak of 1899. The Mississippi river had frozen solid from St. Louis to New Orleans, and Arthur T. Wayne, writing for the American Ornithological Society, documented the deaths by starvation and exposure to blizzard conditions of tens of thousands of birds: fox sparrows and juncos, woodcock and killdeer, pine warblers and meadowlarks.[iv] Across the globe, Danish schoolteacher Christian Mortensen introduced the first systematic method of bird-banding, offering a new window to life’s beautiful, abundant complexity.[v]  Edwin himself would reflect upon these events seventy-five years later as he commenced reconstructing his earliest days to tell his life’s story.[vi] Endings juxtaposed with beginnings, death juxtaposed with life. Edwin Teale, too, entered a childhood defined by such seeming contradictions: confinement and freedom, loathing and admiration, hatred and love. The delivery, which took place in a modest Iowa Avenue frame house beside Hickory Creek in Joliet, Illinois, was “a hard [one] that almost took” Clara Teale’s life.[vii] Several days later, Clara contracted typhoid fever, from which she would not fully recover until September. While his mother recovered, and his father, Oliver Cromwell Teale, labored long hours as a skilled locomotive mechanic in the Michigan City Railroad roundhouse, Edwin was cared for by Oliver’s sister Annie Brummitt and her husband George. The Brummitts had recently lost their only child at birth. Many years later, Clara Teale reflected, “I don’t think any of us quite realized what it meant to them to give up that baby,” and how these earliest days of Edwin’s life filled that void, if only briefly.[viii]

A studio portrait of Edwin Way Teale with his parents, Clara Louise Way Teale and Oliver Cromwell Teale, circa 1916-1918

Clara Teale recovered from typhoid in September of 1899, and she, Oliver, and four-month-old Edwin moved into a home that had been under construction on June 2. The East Washington Street home, just outside the Joliet city limits, “faced a wide expanse of wasteland,” hundreds of acres of “weed-covered hillocks and hollows” that “remained from the digging of gravel that had been deposited by the glaciers.”[ix] This scarred and desolate landscape later afforded Edwin a site for his earliest peregrinations in nature, and these offered a reprieve from his mother’s relentless dedication to her only child’s “improvement,” a dedication that left him, “much of the time, desperately unhappy.”[x] Amongst the overgrown hollows, he often unearthed “small cylinders of stone…the fossil remains of prehistoric crinoids,” which he at first mistook for “Indian beads.”[xi] Wandering in nature, even in a place that others saw as weed-choked and disfigured, Edwin felt “a sense of coming home” that eluded him elsewhere in Joliet.[xii]Later he would praise with equal feeling the aerial prowess of invasive European starling flocks “turning corners like soldiers on parade” and the “snow-white shimmer” of wheeling seaside flocks of delicate sanderlings.[xiii] Where others saw ugliness in nature, Edwin saw beauty and purpose, undiluted by arbitrary human judgments.

The interior of the East Washington Street home contrasted sharply with the wasteland framed by its windows. Its contents painted a portrait of Clara Teale as a cultured, thoughtful, and deliberate woman. An oil on canvas of Niagara Falls, painted by Clara and mounted in a wide gilt frame, adorned the parlor wall. Below it, against a corner of the room, leaned an alpenstock, the antecedent to the modern ice axe, trailing a ribbon of “narrow horizontal bands of brilliant colors.” Edwin would later recall that the alpenstock, among all other curiosities of the house, “especially fascinated me.”[xiv] Clara Teale’s decor likewise reflected the heightened popularity of nature study at the advent of the twentieth century. A small stand housed an ostrich egg, a peacock feather, and other natural specimens.[xv] Seashells “brought from Newport” adorned the room, including a large conch shell that served as a door stop. Putting the conch to his ear, young Edwin “could hear the sea.”[xvi]

There were also numerous pictures of sunsets scattered amongst the house’s contents, clipped from popular magazines by Oliver Teale. In his few spare moments of leisure, Edwin’s beleaguered father “wrote descriptions” of these scenes, his only foray into art in a draining, workaday life.[xvii] Edwin later attributed his own “passionate love of beautiful scenes” in part to his father’s early influence.[xviii] In 1942, fourteen years after Oliver’s death, Edwin would dedicate his sixth book, Byways to Adventure: A Guide to Nature Hobbies, to his father—a tacit acknowledgment that his father earned but never got the luxury of such pursuits. At the other end of the parlor, an upright piano, “the first thing purchased after the house was built,” occupied a wall of its own. What Edwin later remembered most of this piano was not his mother’s playing but “the successive generations of baby mice its interior harbored,” an apt preview of his future leanings.[xix] Despite its rich décor and the intellectual sensitivities it represented, Edwin’s childhood home was more a prison than a sanctuary, transmuting the barren wasteland of the gravel bank to a refuge, a place of retreat into nature and into himself.

Edwin’s relationship with his mother was deeply complicated, and he struggled for the remainder of his life to reconcile its polar contradictions. In 1974, shortly after his 75th birthday, Edwin wrote a full chapter on the complexities of their relationship for The Long Way Home, the autobiography he would not complete. He titled the chapter “Memories of a Bent Twig,” alluding to Alexander Pope’s 1732 observation that “Tis education forms the common mind,/Just as the twig is bent the tree’s inclin’d.”[xx] The choice of this allusion reflected the profound influence of Clara’s unstinting efforts to render every experience of Edwin’s boyhood “a lesson, a training in character.” In Clara’s view, “Life was a preparation for some other end, not an end in itself.”[xxi] She thought only in the future tense. “When I was young,” Edwin reflected in 1974, “little was done just for the fun of it…it seems to me I was one of the most bent twigs the world has ever known.”[xxii] He struggled for the rest of his life to understand the choices his mother had made, to check his extraordinary bitterness about the “schizophrenic world”[xxiii] she created for him, and to render the experiences of his earliest years in honest, fair prose.

Prior to her marriage, Clara Way had been a school teacher in “various country schools near Furnessville, at Boone Grove and elsewhere in northern Indiana.”[xxiv] It was, for her, a period of great personal fulfillment, defined especially by the memory of a particular end-of-school picnic, “a memory that she cherished as long as she lived.”[xxv]

She and the children rode on a hayrack to the picnic site and the pupils had put a chair, decorated with flowers, in the middle of the wagon. She sat on it with the children grouped around her.…It symbolized her dream: to be surrounded by small children looking up to her for advice and counsel. For her great passion was molding the minds and characters of the young.[xxvi]

 

Here was the culmination of her efforts, and, as importantly to her, the adulation that could accompany such efforts.

By the fall of 1899, the East Washington Street home had become her classroom, Edwin her star and only pupil. “In this, her lifelong goal of bending tender twigs,” Edwin wrote, “she found I was the closest, the one around the most.”[xxvii] But Clara’s was a doomed effort crippled by self-absorption. Any adoration, any veneration that Edwin openly offered his mother, despite its sincerity, only veiled deep resentment that grew with time and came to define his recollections of her. But Clara could not, or would not, see this. She clung to the image of admiring children surrounding her on the hayrack. When Edwin was in high school, Clara arranged to have a studio portrait taken of the family. In it, Clara is seated at center, her right hand holding an open volume that she peruses. Oliver stands to her left, one hand steadying the book, as Edwin, standing directly behind his mother, looks on. Clara looks blissful, her son and husband rapt with admiration. The pastoral image, preserved for the annals of time, belies the turbulent waters that roiled beneath.

Clara Teale’s pedagogical methods haunted Edwin’s childhood. “In her desire to train me as I should be trained,” he wrote later, “my mother wanted to be with me every hour, to know what was going on in my mind and heart all the time. She wanted to be inside me. She wanted to have no secrets…she wanted me to be transparent glass that she could look through.”[xxviii] Once, returning home from grade school, Edwin found that his mother had left “a note on the kitchen table saying she would be away for two or three hours.” Later, however, he discovered her “sitting quietly in another room apparently waiting to see what I would say and do when I thought I was unobserved and alone.”[xxix] Later, when he befriended a girl he had met during a stay at Lone Oak, Clara steamed open the girl’s subsequent letters to Edwin for first inspection.[xxx] Such extremes, she argued, were necessary to make Edwin “the kind of person she wanted me to be,” a result that “meant more to her than anything else in the world.”[xxxi] But such measures served only to fog the transparent glass Clara sought. They rendered Edwin “slightly secretive, throwing up barriers beyond which people [could] not go.” Under his mother’s unrelenting gaze, Edwin found himself “continually retreating within myself to some secret room that should, for everyone[,] be inviolable.”[xxxii]  Formed early, Edwin struggled in adulthood to shed the defenses of a childhood that “was largely an ordeal at a time when it should have been fun.”[xxxiii]

Though Edwin found his mother’s training painfully oppressive, he did not question her motives, at least not publicly. In his 1943 Dune Boy, he wrote of his parents as “sincere, hard-working, religious people,” offering only one muted complaint: “At home I was trained for Heaven rather than for the world as it is.”[xxxiv] In 1974, in the most revised draft of The Long Way Home, he wrote:

As I look back, nobody I have ever known ever tried harder to do what she thought was right than my mother. Nobody ever wanted more to help make the world a finer, better place for all. She was sincere. She was honest—so far as she understood her own motivations—in her striving to be a force for good in the world.[xxxv]

 

His assessment was extraordinarily tempered when viewed in light of his private notes. “Probably nobody ever born…understood less what made her[self] tick,” he noted privately. She was “an interesting case for a psychologist,” he added. “By fooling her mind [she] got so her mind fooled her.”[xxxvi] His understanding of her terribly skewed self-knowledge did little to mitigate his deeply-rooted anger. In undated autobiography notes, he considered titling a section of the book “Lies My Mother Told Me.” Below the notation, he enumerated a full page of these.[xxxvii] Elsewhere he reflected, “Not all people who do good deeds deserve credit for good motives.” This he followed with an assessment of his mother’s increased involvement in church work as Edwin grew older: “Do a good deed and get away from house-work and children by doing it!”[xxxviii] Clara’s chronic absence during Edwin’s adolescence hurt him deeply, especially because she had labored so intently in his early years to create in him an absolute dependence upon her.[xxxix] On New Year’s Day, 1911, six months shy of his twelfth birthday, Edwin enumerated a set of resolutions for the coming year, the first of which is especially heart-rending: “I hope that mama will stay home and I will do all that is in my power to help and please her.”[xl] He had just spent the Christmas holiday at Lone Oak, about which he had noted two days earlier, “This is the greatest vacation I ever had.”[xli] He was sorry to leave Lone Oak, he added below his list of resolutions, but “I am glad to come to mamma if sheel only stay home.”[xlii] But Clara would not stay home, driven less by her desire to escape domesticity and more by “the limelight” church work afforded her, “the sense of being somebody,” the affirmation that accompanied highly public righteous acts.[xliii]

Elsewhere, Edwin lamented the times his mother “cried because I used a more pleasant tone of voice to the telephone operator’” than to her. “Neurotic atmosphere—” he added, “wonder not breakdown or suicide.” Of this latter wonder, he did not specify Clara or himself.[xliv] Of her wedding vow to be faithful unto death,” Edwin questioned, “Faithful to whom?” and answered succinctly: “Herself.”[xlv] Still, he was reticent to share with his reading public the full depth of his bitterness. In a paragraph later struck from the most complete autobiography draft, he wrote:

I am well aware of the awesome power that lies in the hand of anyone writing of his own life, the power to emphasize one aspect, to tip the scales in favor of himself, to color events almost unconsciously. The writer can state his story; the one written about cannot correct the impression. So I hope the reader will give every benefit of the doubt to my mother in reading this chapter of my recollections for my first years.[xlvi]

 

While Edwin later cut this qualification, he nonetheless exercised great restraint in wielding his power to shape the reader’s view of his mother.  In the last revision completed before The Long Way Home was put aside in the fall of 1974, Edwin offered the following view of Clara:

My mother not only read to me, she encouraged me to try to write and she taught me that ever-valuable lesson—to get up and try again when I failed. She appreciated wildflowers and, as I noted in the dedication of my first nature book, Grassroot Jungles, saw beauty in humble things. I loved my mother. There was no one I revered more. I recognized she was completely dedicated to my improvement.[xlvii]

 

It is impossible to know how much the decision to include this praise was born of obligation and how much from authentic feeling. Its substance was certainly true. Still, even in the public venue of autobiography, Edwin could not leave it unqualified. It was his “difficult aim,” he told the reader, “to tell as exactly as I can what life has been like for me.” And so, to the passage above, he added, “And yet—all I know is that as a child I was, much of the time, desperately unhappy.”[xlviii]

*          *          *          *          *          *

If Clara Teale was the righteous and dominant force of the home with whom to reckon, her husband, Oliver Cromwell Teale, was her foil. A soft-spoken, kind-hearted man of integrity, Oliver spent few waking hours in the home he shared with his wife and only child. Employed as a skilled locomotive mechanic in the Michigan Central Railroad roundhouse, he worked twelve-hour shifts, six days per week, to bring home weekly pay of fifteen dollars. In winter, he departed for work in the dark and returned thus. “In my memories of him,” Edwin wrote of his father, “he always seemed tired. There was little play in him. But it must be remembered that I saw him mainly in the evenings at the end of a long day’s work.”[xlix] At fourteen, living in his native Yorkshire, England, Oliver began work in a textile mill, and his life thereafter would be that of the laborer. As a young man, he emigrated to the United States with his younger brother, Haigh, and his older brother, William.[l] Several years later, their parents, Jeptha and Ellen Teale, followed, settling on a modest farm at the edge of the Indiana dunes—a farm adjacent to that of Edwin and Jemimah Way. There, Oliver met Clara Louise Way, his future bride. Ellen Teale died in 1895, four years before Edwin’s birth. Of Jeptha, Edwin had “but the vaguest memory of him, a sturdy upright man with an immaculate white beard which he washed with soap and water every morning.”[li] In 1901, Jeptha, now a widower, sold the 19-acre fruit farm and moved into the home of George and Annie Brummit. He died in January of 1904, six months shy of Edwin’s fifth birthday.[lii]

Oliver had grown up one of ten children, and his early life in Yorkshire had been defined by scarcity. As an adult, he stood at five feet, seven inches tall and weighed 145 pounds, his slight build making him ideally suited to enter the bellies of steam locomotives to hammer-test their iron flues. He was five inches shorter than Edwin by the time the latter graduated high school. “It may well be,” Edwin wrote later, “that he would have been taller if he had had ample food in childhood.”[liii] As a father, Oliver “retained the orderly habits of his boyhood” and remained governed by the schooling of early poverty. “My father mended his own shoes,” Edwin recalled later, “and my mother cut his hair.”[liv] During Edwin’s boyhood, the family was “never in need”—they owned their home and carried no debt—but, he qualified, “We were always on thin ice. There was rarely a surplus. Living close to the edge of the precipice you must walk carefully lest a pebble roll under your feet.”[lv] Oliver labored Monday through Saturday. On Saturday night he polished the family’s shoes for Sunday church. “On Sundays,” Edwin wrote, “he was urged on by that most popular of songs at the Methodist church we attended: ‘Work for the night is coming, when man works no more.’”[lvi] On Monday the cycle began again, and one is reminded of Robert Hayden’s oft-anthologized poem “Those Winter Sundays,” which begins:

Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.

 

It was the common pattern for the laboring family man of the early twentieth century. A long day’s labor provided sustenance and stability but little more. For the Teales, there were few luxuries.

Decades later, Edwin reflected thoughtfully, and perhaps a little ruefully, on the trajectory of his father’s life:

Looking back over the span of years, I recognize that my father was a man who lived a life without surpluses—without a surplus of energy, without a surplus of money, without a surplus of time. He never got enough—soon enough…He was not the kind for whom scrolls are inscribed and public dinners held…He was quiet and hard-working. He was well-liked and respected. He could be depended upon…The life he led did not embitter him. It did not break his spirit. Life did not overwhelm or conquer or crush him. Life tired him out.[lvii]

 

Despite the genuine praise of the passage above, Oliver did not escape the bitterness of Edwin’s private reflections on the unhappiness of his childhood. “My father was dependable, old reliable—faithful Oliver,” Edwin wrote in undated autobiography notes.[lviii] He elaborated no more, but the duality of his meaning, taken in the context of other notes, is clear. Edwin appreciated deeply his father’s steadfast, uncomplaining fulfillment of his duties—an authentic act of love that robbed him of his health and led him, at fifty-two, to a grave fittingly inscribed, “Faithful Unto Death.”[lix] Still, he was embittered just as deeply by his father’s malleability when confronted with his domineering wife’s will as she “turned the screws of psychology” on the two of them.[lx] Oliver was an “inarticulate father,” Edwin complained elsewhere, “always subordinate,” manipulated by Clara to believe he had won a “great prize” in marriage.[lxi] He was “sensitive—but he could not express his emotions” while “others seemed more” able to do so.[lxii] Exhausted by back-breaking labor and Clara’s relentless pursuit of “her great thrill [of] ‘moulding’ others,” Oliver Teale “left the job of bending the twig” to Clara, and by doing so left Edwin disillusioned and resentful.[lxiii]

Vivid amongst the scattering of Edwin’s early memories of his father were a handful of visits to the Michigan City roundhouse. At these times, Oliver lifted “the veil of that mysterious world into which he disappeared” each day. For a young boy, such visits were magical, and for Edwin, many years later, they “merged into one dreamlike memory.”[lxiv]

I remember when I was five or six or so and climbing with him to the engineer’s seat in the cab of a huge freight engine. Slowly he eased back a lever. With a long hiss of steam, the locomotive moved ponderously forward until we were swallowed up in the cavernous gloom of the roundhouse. There I was greeted with strange smells—the odor of hot oil and metal and steam—unfamiliar sounds—the clang and reverberation of pounded metal—new sights—men moving about among the dim shapes of towering locomotives lighting their way with smoking flares formed of burning oil-soaked waste. I watched my father, carrying his flare, squeeze his way through a firebox door to inspect the boiler of one engine and heard the ring of his hammer as he tested the flues.[lxv]

 

In these ephemeral hours, his father “seemed like some knight on a charger, a romantic figure.”[lxvi] Later, Edwin found the composite memory of these visits “strange [and] haunting.”[lxvii] The ringing of his father’s hammer was the tolling of a bell for a life absent luxury, a life foreshortened by little-noticed sacrifice. It heralded the coming night when the man, the father, would work no more. It was the peal of love’s labors, of the “austere and lonely offices” for which thanks were neither sought nor expected, and rarely gotten.

*          *          *          *          *          *

As an industrial center with “railroads converging from all directions,” Joliet, Illinois was likewise “a tramp center” at a time when thousands of itinerant men rode the rails hunting work or escape, driven from town to town by local sheriffs and railroad bulls.[lxviii] Less than a mile east of the Teales’ home, in an undeveloped tract named Davidson’s Woods, there was “an extensive hobo jungle…” where “wanderers cooked their food over little campfires and heated their coffee in tin cans.”[lxix] Clara Teale, despite her rigidness in the running of her own home, felt great empathy for the cavalcade of road-worn men who passed through Joliet. Such solicitude for the unwanted likely drew the ire of some neighbors. Such acts cast little limelight. Still, when these men appeared “from time to time…at our back door asking for a bite to eat,” Clara fed them without hesitation.[lxx] Edwin wrote of these unremembered acts of kindness in the last revision of his autobiography, perhaps to further soften his already-muted critique of his mother’s twig-bending efforts: “Times were hard, and my mother was kind-hearted and our house no doubt was widely known as an oasis for tramps in their travels.” He even quipped, “We began to notice cabalistic markings in chalk on the cement wall in front of the house…probably notices to other tramps that easy pickings lay within.”[lxxi]

Despite his lighthearted autobiography treatment of the hobos who plied his mother’s kindness, an incident involving one of these nameless men haunted Edwin’s memory. In undated notes, he recalled a tramp lying on a stretcher beside the tracks of the Eligin, Joliet, and Eastern railway, his severed leg beside him. It was one of many tragedies Edwin witnessed firsthand in his early years. Later, as he compiled voluminous notes for his autobiography over a thirty-year period, the erratic spotlight of his memory returned with striking frequency to these tragic events. Year after year, he enumerated these events on redundant lists, sometimes adding a newly-recalled detail or event. The earliest of these, his “first glimpse of the terror that lies just beneath the bright surface of life,”[lxxii] was the death in winter of a cart-horse that slipped on ice directly in front of the Teales’ East Washington Street home:

I saw my father disappear out the front door. I saw my mother following with an armload of blankets. I had no idea what had occurred. Peeking under the drawn curtain at the parlor window, I saw dark figures huddled around the prostrate animal. Lanterns threw shifting shadows over the scene…Then I heard the crack of a rifle…In the morning the horse was gone but a large red pool of blood had frozen on the ice.[lxxiii]

 

The scene remained “alive[,] buried in the far recesses of my mind,” he wrote nearly seventy years later.[lxxiv]

In stacks of undated autobiography notes, Edwin documented event after event that, as he reflected later, illustrated “how often death has swept close to me.”[lxxv] Once, for example, while he stood at the edge of a water-filled quarry, a favored swimming hole, a boy beside him dove in headfirst, struck a submerged rock, and died from a broken back.[lxxvi] Then there was Cube Brooks, a playmate of Lone Oak summers, who was kicked in the head by a horse and died from the blow.[lxxvii] Another time, swimming in Lake Michigan on the Indiana dunes side, Edwin watched as a drowned girl was pulled from the water. Decades later he recalled clearly the strands of hair that hung flaccid down her waxen face.[lxxviii] Later, working a summer job at the Starr Lumberyard while attending Earlham College, he watched in horror as a deaf co-worker, “unable to hear the warning bell of a backing switch engine, was run over and killed hardly more than a hundred feet from where several of us stood helpless.”[lxxix] On two occasions, Edwin rode trains that collided with automobiles at crossings, killing their occupants.[lxxx] These experiences and others made Edwin feel as though “lightning was striking all around” him.[lxxxi] They left him deeply fearful, often “treading softly, seeking the shadows, trying to avoid attracting the attention of some malign fate I could not name.”[lxxxii] He became acutely aware of the tenuous and unforgiving universe we inhabit, and that awareness haunted him for the rest of his life. “I seemed skating over a deep, dark stream,” he wrote later. “The ice held but I could never forget for long the water that flowed below.”[lxxxiii] Life’s triumphs and joys seemed always to unfurl in the shadow of approaching disaster.

While these tragedies haunted Edwin, the “sense of uncertainty” they fostered likewise heightened his “intense delight…in the beauty of the passing minute.”[lxxxiv] It was analogous, he wrote later, to the way in which “some landscapes take on a magical atmosphere when touched briefly by sunshine while black clouds are piling up in the sky behind them.”[lxxxv] In life’s frailty, beauty resided, in its impermanence, meaning that transcended time. To his lists of “black cloud” events, Edwin often added the title “The Gray Cipher.” In doing so, he alluded to a short poem from “The Extraordinary City of Brass,” a story from The Thousand Nights and the One Night, more commonly known in the English-speaking world as The Arabian Nights. In the story, a traveling party enters the ruins of a great city, now “buried in silence as in a tomb.”[lxxxvi] An inscription on a battlement warns the travelers that “the grey cipher of death” is always near, “building a narrow and dark house for kings” and commoners alike, waiting to spoil the sum of our imagined futures.[lxxxvii] Edwin titled the final chapter of his autobiography “The Gray Cipher.” In it, he wrote only one sentence, stating his intent to offer “reflections of various kinds, especially on life and death….,”[lxxxviii] but his sum, too, was spoiled, the pages left unfilled, a reminder of the dark, narrow house that awaited him and awaits us all.

 

Richard Telford has taught literature and composition at The Woodstock Academy since 1997. In 2011, he helped found the Edwin Way Teale Artists in Residence at Trail Wood program, which he now directs. He was a long-time contributing writer for The Ecotone Exchange. He was recently awarded a Rose and Sigmund Strochlitz Travel Grant by the University of Connecticut to support his work on a book about naturalist, writer, and photographer Edwin Way Teale. The Woodstock Academy Board of Trustees likewise granted him a sabbatical for the 2016-2017 academic year to support this work.

 

References:

Book of the Thousand Nights and One Night, The, Volume 2, Translated from the French translation of Dr. J.C. Mardrus by Powys Mathers, New York & London: Routledge, 2005, Taylor and Francis e-Library ed.

Hayden, Robert. “Those Winter Sundays.” Collected Poems. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2013.

Pendley, Trent D. “Jeptha Teale.” Find a Grave. https://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=6504158. Accessed 31 May 2017.

Pendley, Trent D. “Oliver Cromwell Teale.” Find a Grave. https://www.findagrave.com/cgi- bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=6504214. Accessed 27 June 2017.

Pople, Alexander. The Works of Alexander Pope Esq. Volume III: Containing his Moral Essays. London: J. and P. Knapton in Ludgate Street, 1752.

Teale, Edwin Way. “Days of Hearsay,” draft, 25-27 July, 1974. Most Complete Manuscript, undated. The Long Way Home (EWT’s autobiography). Box 63, folder 2187, Edwin Way Teale Papers 1799-1995, Archives and Special Collections, Thomas J. Dodd Research Center, University of Connecticut Libraries.

Teale, Edwin Way. “Days of Hearsay” chapter notes, drafts, 1974. The Long Way Home (EWT’s autobiography). Box 63, folder 2167, Edwin Way Teale Papers 1799-1995, Archives and Special Collections, Thomas J. Dodd Research Center, University of Connecticut Libraries.

Teale, Edwin Way. Days Without Time: Adventures of a Naturalist. New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1948.

Teale, Edwin Way. Dune Boy: The Early Years of a Naturalist. Lone Oak Edition. New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1943, 1957.

Teale, Edwin Way. Edwin Way Teale’s Composition Book [1910]. Box 85, folder 2664, Edwin Way Teale Papers 1799-1995, Archives and Special Collections, Thomas J. Dodd Research Center, University of Connecticut Libraries.

Teale, Edwin Way. EWT’s early letters to parents, 1909-1912. Box 142, folder 2880, Edwin Way Teale Papers 1799-1995, Archives and Special Collections, Thomas J. Dodd Research Center, University of Connecticut Libraries.

Teale, Edwin Way. “Memories of a Bent Twig” chapter notes, drafts, 1974 July 31. The Long Way Home (EWT’s autobiography). Box 63, folder 2169, Edwin Way Teale Papers 1799-1995, Archives and Special Collections, Thomas J. Dodd Research Center, University of Connecticut Libraries.

Teale, Edwin Way. “Memories of a Bent Twig,” draft, 3-7 Aug., 1974. Most Complete Manuscript, undated. The Long Way Home (EWT’s autobiography). Box 63, folder 2187, Edwin Way Teale Papers 1799-1995, Archives and Special Collections, Thomas J. Dodd Research Center, University of Connecticut Libraries.

Teale, Edwin Way. “My Earliest Home,” draft, 28-31 July, 1974. Most Complete Manuscript, undated. The Long Way Home (EWT’s autobiography). Box 63, folder 2187, Edwin Way Teale Papers 1799-1995, Archives and Special Collections, Thomas J. Dodd Research Center, University of Connecticut Libraries.

Teale, Edwin Way. “My Earliest Home” chapter notes, drafts, 1974 July 31. The Long Way Home (EWT’s autobiography). Box 63, folder 2168, Edwin Way Teale Papers 1799-1995, Archives and Special Collections, Thomas J. Dodd Research Center, University of Connecticut Libraries.

Teale, Edwin Way. Notes, Clippings, undated. The Long Way Home (EWT’s autobiography). Box 63, folder 2163, Edwin Way Teale Papers 1799-1995, Archives and Special Collections, Thomas J. Dodd Research Center, University of Connecticut Libraries.

Teale, Edwin Way. “The Gray Cipher” Chapter Skeleton. 20 Sept., 1974. Most Complete Manuscript, undated. The Long Way Home (EWT’s autobiography). Box 63, folder 2187, Edwin Way Teale Papers 1799-1995, Archives and Special Collections, Thomas J. Dodd Research Center, University of Connecticut Libraries.

Teale, Edwin Way. The Hampton Journal, 1959-1961, unpublished journal. Box 120, Edwin Way Teale Papers 1799-1995, Archives and Special Collections, Thomas J. Dodd Research Center, University of Connecticut Libraries.

Teale, Edwin Way. “Woodland Days” chapter notes, research, drafts of manuscript, correspondence, 1974 August 19. The Long Way Home (EWT’s autobiography). Box 63, folder 2170, Edwin Way Teale Papers 1799-1995, Archives and Special Collections, Thomas J. Dodd Research Center, University of Connecticut Libraries.

Wayne, Arthur T. “Destruction of Birds by the Great Cold Wave of February 13 and 14, 1899.” The Auk, 16: 2 (Apr 1899), 197-8.

Wood, Harold B. “The History of Bird Banding.” The Auk, 62: 2 (Apr 1945), 256-265.

 

Notes:

[i] Teale, Edwin Way. The Hampton Journal, 1959-1961. 15 November, 1961.

[ii] Hayden, Robert. “Those Winter Sundays.” Collected Poems. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 41

[iii] The Book of the Thousand Nights and One Night, Volume 2, 298.

[iv] Wayne, Arthur T. “Destruction of Birds by the Great Cold Wave of February 13 and 14, 1899.” 197-8.

[v] Wood, Harold B. “The History of Bird Banding.” 259

[vi] Teale, Edwin Way. “Days of Hearsay,” draft, 25-27 July, 1974. The Long Way Home, most complete manuscript. Box 63, folder 2187. 1

[vii] Ibid. 2

[viii] Teale, Clara Louise. Undated notes. “Woodland Days.” Box 63, folder 2170.

[ix] Teale, Edwin Way. “My Earliest Home,” draft, 28-31 July, 1974. The Long Way Home, most complete manuscript. Box 63, folder 2187. 1

[x] Teale, Edwin Way. “Memories of a Bent Twig,” draft, 3-7 Aug., 1974. The Long Way Home, most complete manuscript. Box 63, folder 2187. 6

[xi] Teale, Edwin Way. “My Earliest Home,” draft, 28-31 July, 1974. The Long Way Home, most complete manuscript. Box 63, folder 2187.  1

[xii] Teale, Edwin Way. Notes, 7 August 1974. “Memories of a Bent Twig.” Box 63, folder 2169.

[xiii] Teale, Edwin Way. Days Without Time. 20, 238.

[xiv] Teale, Edwin Way. “My Earliest Home,” draft, 28-31 July, 1974. The Long Way Home, most complete manuscript. Box 63, folder 2187. 4

[xv] Ibid. 4

[xvi] Teale, Edwin Way. Undated notes. “My Earliest Home.” Box 63, folder 2168.

[xvii] Ibid.

[xviii] Teale, Edwin Way. “My Earliest Home,” draft, 28-31 July, 1974. The Long Way Home, most complete manuscript. Box 63, folder 2187. 8

[xix] Ibid. 4

[xx] Pople, Alexander. The Works of Alexander Pope Esq. Volume III: Containing his Moral Essays. 192

[xxi] Teale, Edwin Way. “Memories of a Bent Twig,” draft, 3-7 Aug., 1974. The Long Way Home, most complete manuscript. Box 63, folder 2187. 2

[xxii] Ibid. 2, 1

[xxiii] Teale, Edwin Way. Undated notes. “Woodland Days.” Box 63, folder 2170.

[xxiv] Teale, Edwin Way. “Memories of a Bent Twig,” draft, 3-7 Aug., 1974. The Long Way Home, most complete manuscript. Box 63, folder 2187. 1

[xxv] Ibid. 1

[xxvi] Ibid. 2

[xxvii] Ibid. 2

[xxviii] Ibid. 2

[xxix] Ibid. 3

[xxx] Teale, Edwin Way. Undated notes. “Memories of a Bent Twig.” Box 63, folder 2169.

[xxxi] Teale, Edwin Way. “Memories of a Bent Twig,” draft, 3-7 Aug., 1974. The Long Way Home, most complete manuscript. Box 63, folder 2187. 3

[xxxii] Ibid. 3

[xxxiii] Ibid. 3

[xxxiv] Teale, Edwin Way. Dune Boy: The Early Years of a Naturalist. Lone Oak Edition. New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1943, 1957. 5.

[xxxv] Ibid. 2

[xxxvi] Teale, Edwin Way. Undated notes. “Woodland Days.” Box 63, folder 2170.

[xxxvii] Teale, Edwin Way. Undated notes. “Memories of a Bent Twig.” Box 63, folder 2169.

[xxxviii] Ibid.

[xxxix] Teale, Edwin Way. “Memories of a Bent Twig,” draft, 3-7 Aug., 1974. The Long Way Home, most complete manuscript. Box 63, folder 2187. 6

[xl] Teale, Edwin Way. Entry, 1 Jan. 1911. Edwin Way Teale’s Composition Book [1910]. Box 85, folder 2664.

[xli] Teale, Edwin Way. Entry, 30 Dec. 1910. Edwin Way Teale’s Composition Book [1910]. Box 85, folder 2664.

[xlii] Teale, Edwin Way. Entry, 1 Jan. 1911. Edwin Way Teale’s Composition Book [1910]. Box 85, folder 2664.

[xliii] Teale, Edwin Way. Undated notes. “Memories of a Bent Twig.” Box 63, folder 2169.

[xliv] Teale, Edwin Way. Undated notes. “Woodland Days.” Box 63, folder 2170.

[xlv] Ibid.

[xlvi] Teale, Edwin Way. Undated notes. “Memories of a Bent Twig.” Box 63, folder 2169.

[xlvii] Teale, Edwin Way. “Memories of a Bent Twig,” draft, 3-7 Aug., 1974. The Long Way Home, most complete manuscript. Box 63, folder 2187. 6

[xlviii] Ibid.

[xlix] Teale, Edwin Way. “My Earliest Home,” draft, 28-31 July, 1974. The Long Way Home, most complete manuscript. Box 63, folder 2187. 8

[l] Teale, Edwin Way. “Days of Hearsay,” draft, 25-27 July, 1974. The Long Way Home, most complete manuscript. Box 63, folder 2187. 3

[li] Ibid. 4

[lii] Pendley, Trent D. “Jeptha Teale.” Find a Grave. https://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=6504158.

[liii] Teale, Edwin Way. “My Earliest Home,” draft, 28-31 July, 1974. The Long Way Home, most complete manuscript. Box 63, folder 2187. 7

[liv] Ibid. 6

[lv] Ibid. 6

[lvi] Ibid. 7

[lvii] Ibid. 9

[lviii] Teale, Edwin Way. Undated notes. “My Earliest Home.” Box 63, folder 2168.

[lix] Pendley, Trent D. “Oliver Cromwell Teale.” Find a Grave. https://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=6504214.

[lx] Teale, Edwin. Undated notes. “Woodland Days.” Box 63, folder 2170.

[lxi] Ibid.

[lxii] Teale, Edwin Way. Undated notes. “My Earliest Home.” Box 63, folder 2168.

[lxiii] Ibid.

[lxiv] Teale, Edwin Way. “My Earliest Home,” draft, 28-31 July, 1974. The Long Way Home, most complete manuscript. Box 63, folder 2187. 9

[lxv] Ibid. 9

[lxvi] Teale, Edwin Way. Undated notes. “My Earliest Home.” Box 63, folder 2168.

[lxvii] Teale, Edwin Way. “My Earliest Home,” draft, 28-31 July, 1974. The Long Way Home, most complete manuscript. Box 63, folder 2187. 9

[lxviii] Ibid. 3

[lxix] Ibid. 3

[lxx] Ibid. 3

[lxxi] Ibid. 3

[lxxii] Ibid. 5

[lxxiii] Ibid. 5

[lxxiv] Ibid. 5

[lxxv] Ibid. 5

[lxxvi] Teale, Edwin Way. Undated notes. “My Earliest Home.” Box 63, folder 2168.

[lxxvii] Ibid.

[lxxviii] Teale, Edwin Way. Undated notes. Box 63, folder 2163.

[lxxix] Teale, Edwin Way. “My Earliest Home,” draft, 28-31 July, 1974. The Long Way Home, most complete manuscript. Box 63, folder 2187. 5-6

[lxxx] Ibid. 5

[lxxxi] Ibid. 6

[lxxxii] Teale, Edwin Way. Undated notes. “Woodland Days.” Box 63, folder 2170.

[lxxxiii] Ibid. 6

[lxxxiv] Ibid. 6

[lxxxv] Ibid. 6

[lxxxvi] The Book of the Thousand Nights and One Night, Volume 2, 298.

[lxxxvii] Ibid.

[lxxxviii] Teale, Edwin Way. “The Gray Cipher,” skeleton chapter, 20 Sept. 1974. The Long Way Home, most complete manuscript. Box 63, folder 2187.

Prologue: Into the Beautiful, Free Country; Reexamining the Life and Writing of Edwin Way Teale

By Richard Telford

Author’s Note: Though the product of many hours of research, writing, and revision, this chapter is nevertheless a draft; it will be subject to revision as the larger book in which it will appear takes shape. In this chapter, the very first of the book, I have departed from the time period I wrote about in the previous three chapters published on the Archives and Special Collections site, during which the Teales lost their only son, David, in wartime service. Those chapters can be accessed here. I welcome critical response, either in the comment section below or through direct e-mail. I am grateful to the Archives and Special Collections staff for providing me the opportunity to share this work, and to the Woodstock Academy Board of Trustees for awarding me a sabbatical for the 2016-2017 school year so that this work could be undertaken.  Contextual information about the project and manuscript can be found here.

 

Prologue: Into the Beautiful, Free Country

 

Not only have you made us both very happy indeed; but you have also enabled us to get away from the heat and fatigue of the city into the beautiful, free country earlier than we could otherwise have done; and you know, I delight in nothing more than in being close to Nature’s heart.[1]

 

                                                                               Helen Keller, from a letter to Alexander Graham Bell, June 2, 1899

 

Down the slopes of the wooded hills there came a long sighing breath that set the leaves a wavering, down the long dancing corriders of the woodland.

It told a tale of the piles of drifting snow, of fluttering grouse, and wind swept ice, of strife and har[d]ships; yet [the] trees sang on with a glad hear[t], for it told more to them than hardships and struggle, it told of gorgeous costume[s] of colored woods and fleecy sky; and so the leaves sang on, with the joy of childhood.[ii]

 

                                                                              Edwin Way Teale, from “The Moon of Falling Leaves,” typed manuscript, ca. 1909-1910

 

Edwin Way Teale at Lone Oak, the Indiana farm of his maternal grandparents Edwin F. and Jemima Way, circa 1910.

In 1943, amidst unprecedented slaughter that would add the word “genocide” to the common lexicon, author Edwin Way Teale introduced to the world a boy who sat perched atop the roof of his grandparents’ Indiana farmhouse, watching at once the divergent aerial paths of a bald eagle soaring on high and a gray sandhill crane hugging the earth in low, loping flight. The boy imagined what he might see through the eyes of each bird. He wondered how each might see the dune landscape, the “shining, mysterious land of gold beyond the treetops at the horizon’s edge.”[iii] Less than two miles from the roof he straddled lay a “fragment of untamed wilderness” where the boy had heard that “wolves still howled among the snow-clad dunes on winter nights.”[iv] Such wilderness stirred the boy’s imagination, and so, too, did the north woods at the edge of his grandparents’ 90-acre farm, “a mysterious realm of little trails and piles of yellow sand dug from burrows.”[v] In 1943, the world needed this boy, and the boy, now grown and suffering the trials of war, still needed that childhood world of wilderness, of unfettered exploration, of natural order, of simple beauty.

The boy, born on June 2, 1899, had entered the world as two of his future heroes, John Muir and John Burroughs, occupied adjacent state rooms on the steamer SS George W Elder en route to Alaska during the Harriman Alaska Expedition. The expedition, funded by American railroad magnate Edward Harriman, assembled the nation’s most accomplished scientists, natural historians, and artists to conduct a comprehensive two-month survey of the Alaskan coast all the way to Siberia.[vi]  Of that day, when the expedition rounded the coast of British Columbia, Burroughs later wrote, “I had often seen as much color and brilliancy in the sky, but never before such depth and richness of blue and purple upon the mountains and upon the water.”[vii] On that same day, a hemisphere away, the Malolos Congress, the National Assembly of the Philippines, declared war against the United States, a war it would take the American military three years to win, at a cost of more than 4200 troops.[viii] The boy, too, would later suffer the losses of successive world wars. One of these would haunt him for the remainder of his life, would inhabit his dreams decade after decade, a perpetual “nightmare at dawn.”[ix] But that loss, on the day of his birth, was a generation removed. Finally, on the day the boy entered the world, Helen Keller wrote to her lifelong benefactor Alexander Graham Bell, to whom she would later dedicate her 1903 autobiography The Story of My Life.[x] To Bell, she confided, “I delight in nothing more than in being close to Nature’s heart,” and few statements could more aptly reflect the future trajectory of the boy clad in blue overalls, for whom the natural world would be at once a playground and a sanctuary, a nourisher and a balm. While the boy would undergo countless evolutions during the 81 years to follow, the hold of the natural world upon him would remain a constant, a holdfast in a relentless sea of waxing change.

The house at Lone Oak, the Indiana farm of Edwin F. and Jemima Way, the maternal grandparents of Edwin Way Teale, early twentieth century.

Edwin Way Teale, on the fourth page of his 1943 book Dune Boy: The Early Years of a Naturalist, revealed the identity of the overall-clad boy, who through so many trips up the shingled roof of his grandparents’ farm had left a visible trail to the ridge like “the thin trail of a garden slug.” “It was thus,” he wrote, “as the boy in the blue overalls, that I spent many hours during the long summer days of my earliest boyhood.”[xi] These summers and numerous Christmas and Easter holidays spent at Lone Oak, the 90-acre farm of his maternal grandparents Edwin and Jemima Way, formed “the most memorable months” of his childhood.[xii] Decades later, in the darkest hours of adult life, “in nights of strain and days of trouble,” Edwin would return often in memory to “the sounds of the dune country night”: the alternate refrains of katydids and crickets, the shadow-calls of nighthawks and owls, the susurrations of poultry and nesting storks.[xiii] Through the lens of time, Lone Oak became for Edwin what Tintern Abbey had been to English Romantic poet William Wordsworth, a sustaining sanctuary of memory. Amidst copious notes for his never-published autobiography, Edwin, reflecting on memories of Lone Oak, copied out the following lines from Wordsworth:

But oft in lonely rooms, and ‘mid the din

Of towns and cities, I have owed to them

In hours of weariness, sensations sweet…[xiv]

 

Amidst “the tensions, the pressures, the constraints, [and] the strain”[xv] of a “desperately unhappy”[xvi] childhood, Lone Oak was, and in recollection always would be, a sanctuary. “I never was free from the bridle and the bit,” Edwin wrote later, “except at Lone Oak—Dear, lifesaving Lone Oak!”[xvii]

Edwin Way Teale with his maternal grandparents Edwin F. and Jemima Way at Lone Oak, their Indiana farm, circa 1916-1918.

For Edwin, the school year spent in the industrial city of Joliet, Illinois and holidays spent at his grandparents’ dune country farm near Furnessville, Indiana divided life “into a kind of mental Arctic night and day.”[xviii] The metaphor was well chosen. The Arctic night represented a spirit-choking home life; school days teeming with bullies and marked by the chronic shadow of personal failure; an oppressive, soot-stained, limestone landscape. Sprawling along the United States Steel company’s outer rail belt around Chicago, Joliet attracted “Wire mills, coke plants, stove companies, horseshoe factories, brick companies, foundries, boiler and tank companies, machine manufacturers, can companies, bridge builders, plating factories, [and] steel car shops.”[xix]  “Everything in our vicinity,” Edwin recalled later, “was begrimed and gray…, the air always scented with coal smoke.”[xx] Soot from the locomotive stacks of the Michigan Central Railroad to the north and the Eligin, Joliet, and Eastern line to the east often forced a second washing of his mother’s sheets drying on the line.[xxi] The Teales’ Washington Street home was little better. “When winter came,” Edwin wrote, “…storm windows and doors virtually sealed us in. From December to March we seemed to breathe the same dead air scented with coal gas and cooking.”[xxii] And then there was the specter of Edwin’s mother, Clara Louise Teale, whose “rigid training,” “unending inspection,” and “continual consideration of every act” he committed constrained him more than any physical landscape, interior or exterior, could have done. Her pedagogical tyranny, he reflected later, “made me turn to nature. Here was freedom, here was liberty. Here my tether was lengthened or left behind.”[xxiii]

The contrast between Joliet and Lone Oak could not have been more stark. In Joliet, inmates from the Illinois State Penitentiary carved limestone from the earth with forced labor.[xxiv] Smokestacks lined the horizon in all directions, spewing from industrial furnaces a dark cloud that blanketed the city. Images of the time, intended to extol the advanced industry of the city, instead illustrate the dual toll of corporate greed on human health and the human spirit.[xxv] At Lone Oak, clean, crisp air revealed “hills of gold shining in the sun” and “the blue hills of the Valparaiso moraine against the lighter blue of the summer sky.”[xxvi] In this land of boyhood freedom, “prevailing winds…carried quartz grains to the southeastern tip” of Lake Michigan, forming “the dunes themselves as well as the great blowouts and the small ribbed patterns on the beach sand….”[xxvii] While Joliet offered only “a haunted place beneath the smoke,”[xxviii] Lone Oak offered a place of deliverance beneath the “great clamor of the geese and waterfowl circling in the [late-day] light.”[xxix] For a boy liberated from the confines of city life, Lone Oak was as worthy a site for exploration as the Alaskan coastline was for Burroughs and Muir. At his grandparents’ farm, Edwin fixed his eyes with equal acuity on the sweep of the vast dune landscape and that of the long, emerald leg of the night-calling cicada. No titan of industry funded his expeditions. His stateroom was an attic, his steamer a rambling farmhouse, his benefactors wise and loving grandparents. The influence of Gram and Gramp Way upon him would ultimately exceed that of his own parents, and no single factor would shape more profoundly the trajectory of his life than the glorious days he spent in the beautiful, free country of Lone Oak, the childhood landscape he recalled, nearly three-quarters of a century later, as “that home of my heart.”[xxx]

 

Richard Telford has taught literature and composition at The Woodstock Academy since 1997. In 2011, he helped found the Edwin Way Teale Artists in Residence at Trail Wood program, which he now directs. He was a long-time contributing writer for The Ecotone Exchange. He was recently awarded a Rose and Sigmund Strochlitz Travel Grant by the University of Connecticut to support his work on a book about naturalist, writer, and photographer Edwin Way Teale. The Woodstock Academy Board of Trustees likewise granted him a sabbatical for the 2016-2017 academic year to support this work.

 

References

Burroughs, John, John Muir, et al. Alaska: The Harriman Expedition 1899. Facsimile: Two volumes bound as one. New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1986.

“Illinois Steel Works, Joliet.” Photograph. http://trollmongo.deviantart.com/art/Joliet-IL-1900-291620595

Illustration of Joliet Iron and Steel Works, 1877-8, from advertisement in Poor’s Manual of the    Railroads in the United States. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Joliet_Iron_%26_Steel_1870s.jpg

“Joliet, IL.” The Electronic Encyclopedia of Chicago. Chicago Historical Society. http://www.encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org/pages/676.html

Keller, Helen, letter to Alexander Graham Bell, 2 June, 1899. Library of Congress, Alexander Graham Bell family papers, 1834-1974. MSS51268: Folder: Helen Keller, 1888-1918, undated.

Keller, Helen. The Story of My Life. Doubleday, Page, and Co., 1903.

“Phillipine-American War, The, 1899-1902.” Office of the Historian, Department of State, United States of America. https://history.state.gov/milestones/1899-1913/war

Renehan, Jr., Edward J. John Burroughs: An American Naturalist. Hensonville, NY: Black Dome Press Corp., 1998.

Teale, Edwin Way. Adventures in Making a Living: Volume II, unpublished journal, February 1944 to May 1946. Box 113, Edwin Way Teale Papers 1799-1995, Archives and Special  Collections, Thomas J. Dodd Research Center, University of Connecticut Libraries.

Teale, Edwin Way. Dune Boy: The Early Years of a Naturalist. Lone Oak Edition. New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1943, 1957.

Teale, Edwin Way. “Lone Oak Cat Stories.” Ca. 1909-1912. Box 84, folder 2587, Edwin Way Teale Papers 1799-1995, Archives and Special Collections, Thomas J. Dodd Research Center, University of Connecticut Libraries.

Teale, Edwin Way. “Memories of a Bent Twig” chapter notes, drafts, 1974 July 31. The Long Way Home (EWT’s autobiography). Box 63, folder 2169, Edwin Way Teale Papers 1799-1995, Archives and Special Collections, Thomas J. Dodd Research Center, University of Connecticut Libraries.

Teale, Edwin Way. “Memories of a Bent Twig,” draft, 3-7 Aug., 1974. Most Complete Manuscript, undated. The Long Way Home (EWT’s autobiography). Box 63, folder 2187, Edwin Way Teale Papers 1799-1995, Archives and Special Collections, Thomas J. Dodd Research Center, University of Connecticut Libraries.

Teale, Edwin Way. “My Earliest Home,” draft, 28-31 July, 1974. Most Complete Manuscript, undated. The Long Way Home (EWT’s autobiography). Box 63, folder 2187,

Edwin Way Teale Papers 1799-1995, Archives and Special Collections, Thomas J. Dodd Research Center, University of Connecticut Libraries.

Teale, Edwin Way. “My Earliest Home” chapter notes, drafts, 1974 July 31. The Long Way Home (EWT’s autobiography). Box 63, folder 2168, Edwin Way Teale Papers 1799-1995, Archives and Special Collections, Thomas J. Dodd Research Center, University of Connecticut Libraries.

Teale, Edwin Way. Notes, Clippings, undated. The Long Way Home (EWT’s autobiography). Box 63, folder 2163, Edwin Way Teale Papers 1799-1995, Archives and Special Collections, Thomas J. Dodd Research Center, University of Connecticut Libraries.

Teale, Edwin Way. “Trail Wood” chapter notes, undated. The Long Way Home (EWT’s autobiography). Box 63, folder 2186, Edwin Way Teale Papers 1799-1995, Archives and Special Collections, Thomas J. Dodd Research Center, University of Connecticut Libraries.

Teale, Edwin Way. “Woodland Days” chapter notes, research, drafts of manuscript, correspondence, 1974 August 19. The Long Way Home (EWT’s autobiography). Box 63, folder 2170, Edwin Way Teale Papers 1799-1995, Archives and Special Collections, Thomas J. Dodd Research Center, University of Connecticut Libraries.

 

Notes

[1] Keller, Helen, letter to Alexander Graham Bell, 2 June, 1899.

[ii] Teale, Edwin Way. “Lone Oak Cat Stories.” Ca. 1909-1912. Box 84, folder 2587.

[iii] Teale, Edwin Way. Dune Boy: The Early Years of a Naturalist. Lone Oak Edition. New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1943, 1957. 2.

[iv] Ibid. 2.

[v] Ibid. 5.

[vi] Renehan, Jr., Edward J. John Burroughs: An American Naturalist. Hensonville, NY: Black Dome Press Corp., 207

[vii] Burroughs, John, John Muir, et al. Alaska: The Harriman Expedition 1899. Facsimile: Two volumes bound as one. New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1986.

[viii] “The Phillipine-American War, 1899-1902.” Office of the Historian, Department of State, United States of America. https://history.state.gov/milestones/1899-1913/war

[ix] Teale, Edwin Way. Adventures in Making a Living, Vol II. 8 August 1945.

[x] Keller, Helen. The Story of My Life. Doubleday, Page, and Co., 1903.

[xi] Teale, Edwin Way. Dune Boy. Lone Oak Edition. New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1943, 1957. 4.

[xii] Ibid. 6.

[xiii] Teale, Edwin Way. Undated notes. “My Earliest Home.” Box 63, folder 2168.

[xiv] Wordsworth, William. From “Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abby, On Revisiting the Banks of the Wye during a Tour. July 13, 1793.” Copied into undated notes. “The Long Way Home.” Box 63, folder 2163.

[xv] Teale, Edwin Way. Undated notes. “My Earliest Home.” Box 63, folder 2168.

[xvi] Teale, Edwin Way. “Memories of a Bent Twig,” draft, 3-7 Aug., 1974. The Long Way Home, most complete manuscript. Box 63, folder 2187. 6

[xvii] Teale, Edwin Way. Undated notes. “Memories of a Bent Twig.” Box 63, folder 2169.

[xviii] Teale, Edwin Way. Dune Boy: The Early Years of a Naturalist. Lone Oak Edition. New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1943, 1957. 5.

[xix] “Joliet, IL.” The Electronic Encyclopedia of Chicago. Chicago Historical Society. http://www.encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org/pages/676.html

[xx] Teale, Edwin Way. The Long Way Home. “My Earliest Home.” Most complete manuscript. 30 July, 1974. Box 63, Folder 2187. 2

[xxi] Ibid. 2

[xxii] Ibid. 6

[xxiii] Teale, Edwin Way. Undated notes. “Memories of a Bent Twig.” Box 63, folder 2169.

[xxiv] Ibid.

[xxv] a. “Illinois Steel Works, Joliet.” Photograph. http://trollmongo.deviantart.com/art/Joliet-IL-1900-291620595.  Illustration of Joliet Iron and Steel Works, 1877-8, from advertisement in Poor’s Manual of the Railroads in the United States. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Joliet_Iron_%26_Steel_1870s.jpg

[xxvi] Teale, Edwin Way. Dune Boy. Lone Oak Edition. New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1943,1957. 4-5.

[xxvii] Ibid. 3.

[xxviii] Teale, Edwin Way. Undated notes. “Memories of a Bent Twig.” Box 63, folder 2169.

[xxix] Teale, Edwin Way. Undated notes. “Woodland Days.” Box 63, folder 2170.

[xxx] Teale, Edwin Way. Undated notes. “Trail Wood.” Box 63, folder 2186.

 

 

Losing the Remembrance of Former Things: Reexamining the Life and Writing of Edwin Way Teale

By Richard Telford

Author’s Note: Though the product of many hours of research, writing, and revision, this chapter is nevertheless a draft; it will be subject to revision as the larger book in which it will appear takes shape. The chapter published below, “Losing the Remembrance of Former Things,” follows two preceding chapters, published in January and February on this site: “The Lonely Suffering of the Fallible Heart,” which can be viewed here, and “Throwing Bricks at the Temple,” which can be viewed here. For greatest clarity, these chapters should be read in order. This present chapter is being published on the 72nd anniversary of the combat death of David Allen Teale near the end of World War II. David figures prominently in this and the preceding chapters. The timing of this publication is an apt reminder of the oft-forgotten sacrifices of previous wars. I welcome critical response, either in the comment section below or through direct e-mail. I am grateful to the Archives and Special Collections staff for providing me the opportunity to share this work, and to the Woodstock Academy Board of Trustees for awarding me a sabbatical for the 2016-2017 school year so that this work could be undertaken.  Contextual information about the project and manuscript can be found here.
Chapter 11: Losing the Remembrance of Former Things

Is there a thing of which is said,
“See, this is new”?
It has been already,
In the ages before us.
There is no remembrance of former things,
Nor will there be any remembrance
Of later things yet to happen
Among those who come after.[i]

Ecclesiastes 1: 9-13

 

Of course, there are at present, and no doubt will continue to be for many generations yet, a number of fire-eating war-mongers and dashing blades who will always bounce about the delights of battle and the salubrious qualities of slaughter. But these, when genuine, are atavisms, and must gradually become as extinct as dodoes, as the world advances in sense and experience…[T]he New Army…has seen and felt a very great deal too much of the reality of war to be under any illusion as to its loveliness or enjoyability. Unredeemed horror is the whole thing, a horror that breaks up the soul of man into a gibbering wreckage.[ii]

Reginald Farrer, The Void of War: Letters from Three Fronts, 1918

 

To be killed in war is an event beyond our yes and no. It is a great sorrow but not a tragedy. The collapse of character alone is tragedy; not the events that test it from without. A single day of life with courage and character towers above the years of a centenarian if lived as a plaything of fate.[iii]

Edwin Way Teale, January 3, 1945

 

On the back side of the Norman Rockwell April Fool cover of The Saturday Evening Post that Edwin sent to David on Easter Sunday of 1945 is a full-page advertisement for the Parker “51” Aeromatic fountain pen. A strong, sure hand, its palm towards the viewer, holds the pen delicately between extended thumb and middle finger. The index finger steadies it from behind, the nib pointed upward. The hand is positioned just as the ad’s viewer might position his or her own, not just to inspect “this ‘most wanted’ pen in the world” but to appreciate the faux sapphire appointments on its engraved golden cap, to examine the understated black barrel with concealed nib, to feel the heft in hand. In the text below, The Parker Pen Company of Janesville, Wisconsin reminds the viewer that its production of “rocket fuzes and other war materièl” has stopped pen production. However, with the war’s end near, the ad continues, “More Parker ‘51s’ are on the way.” The ad’s large script headline, bisected by the pen and hand, assures the reader, “Sooner than you think…a Parker ‘51’ may be yours.”[iv]

In two letters sent in the fall of 1944, one from England to his mother on November 1[v] and the other from France to his father on November 16,[vi] David Teale asked his parents to buy him a Parker “51” fountain pen. “If [the] cost is too great for your purse,” he wrote Edwin, “take the required amount from my nest egg.”[vii] On June 18, 1945, however, the Teales realized it was a purchase they would never make, at least not on David’s behalf. On that day, when Edwin Stroh’s father had called to report that the War Department had declared his son killed in action, the Teales lost all hope that David would return to them. Nearly two months later, on August 8, Edwin would write, “It was that afternoon in June that the bottom collapsed and let us drop into darkness. It could have happened. We saw finally it must have happened to David.”[viii]  That day of cascading hopes brought “a violent thunderstorm in late afternoon,” and Edwin continued “working in a daze on another chapter.”[ix] The writing was torturous, but it was necessary torture, an act of survival, just as it had been in the preceding months. It was more so now. “Will I ever be able to finish it or go on?” he questioned. “Every line seems the last I can possibly write.”[x] Nonetheless, he persevered, and in the coming days he would work to exhaustion to keep The Lost Woods on schedule, not in spite of David’s fate but in answer to it. “It is worth-while work, work I would want to do up to my final hour,” Edwin continued on June 18. “I hope I can meet this worst blow life can give with my head up without cringing or giving in. I think I can; but it is the weeks and months and years beyond I dread. How wonderful our whole family is and has always been, so close together.”[xi]

A partial view of a Nazi flag recovered by David Teale in Stadtkyll, Germany in early March of 1945. Seventeen members of a Tiger Patrol of the 346th regiment, 87th Division of the U.S. Army signed the flag. Five of the men whose signatures are visible here died on March 16, 1945, while crossing the Moselle River in Germany on a night reconnaissance patrol: Antonio J. Alvear, Bill Cummins, Eugene B. Pings, Edwin A. Stroh, and David A. Teale. Harold F. Gould Jr., whose signature also appears in this part of the flag, survived the mission. He wrote to Edwin Teale upon his return to the United States, sharing what he knew of the events of that night.

Two days later, on June 20, another of the packages they had sent David was returned, and their response to it, which Edwin recorded in the Guild diary, illustrates his and Nellie’s complete loss of hope: “A package comes back—This one marked ‘missing’ by Lt. Hawkins. But that means nothing. Our despair is complete.”[xii] Now, they simply waited for the inevitable. On that same day, the Teales received a letter from Walter F. Gould, the grandfather of Harold F. Gould Jr., explaining that his grandson was coming home on furlough from Europe before shipping out for the Pacific, and it might be possible for the Teales to see him or at least speak by telephone. Walter Gould could fully understand the Teales’ suffering. He informed Edwin both by telephone and letter that he had “had one son (31 years old, single) killed in that heavy drive in Belgium” the day after Christmas of 1944, roughly a week after David had witnessed and survived the pummeling of his regiment by German 88s.  “I don’t think we will ever get over it,” the elder Gould told Edwin.[xiii]  Just as the Teales were doing now, Walter Gould had reached out to a fellow soldier in his deceased son’s unit to understand more fully the circumstances of his death. In reply, he had gotten “a very nice answer telling one a good deal more about his death than the Army had told me.”[xiv] Though David’s fate now seemed certain, Edwin and Nellie, too, wanted to understand the events that had led to David’s death, events on which the younger Gould could, and later would, shed light.

A week after receiving Walter Gould’s letter, there was still no word from his grandson. The implications of Edwin Stroh’s confirmed death weighed heavily upon the Teales. Edwin noted, “Nellie and I plan to spend 2 weeks at Concord for our vacation in September.”[xv] There is no inclusion of the possibility that David might join them if he returned, for they now knew that he would not. One year earlier, on July 18, 1944, Edwin had written to David during a vacation with Nellie at Crocker Lake in Maine while David was at Fort Jackson: “We will have a good time for you at the camp. I hope another year, you can be along…if you aren’t walking down the coast!”[xvi] He referenced this walk down the coast a second time in a letter sent eleven days later: “When you take your long walk all by yourself, after the war, you ought to read John Muir’s ‘A Thousand Mile Walk to the Gulf.’ It is very good and would be right up your alley.”[xvii] But for David, there would not be “another year,” and Muir’s book would go unread. One year later, as the Teales planned their September Concord trip, they knew that David would not join them, and the timing of their departure from Baldwin was deliberate. On September 8, 1945, David would have turned twenty. Where better to find solace and shelter from their grief on that day than in Thoreau’s country. The following night, Edwin began reading Van Wyck Brooks’ The Flowering of New England, which had won the Pulitzer the year Edwin published Grassroot Jungles —“at least the chapter on Thoreau at Walden,”[xviii] Edwin qualified.

On June 28, Edwin once again found his footing, if tenuously, in his work on The Lost Woods. “On this evening,” he wrote, “I print ‘The Lost Woods’ on the top of the final manuscript box and stamp…my home address at top and bottom. This regular rite—engaged in since ‘Grassroot Jungles’ days—makes me feel a little nearer the completion of my long labors.”[xix] Such small, symbolic acts mattered. Each was an act of control, even as his life with David and their life as a family, “always…so close together,”[xx] had been rended by a complex, fickle chain of events over which he could have no influence. “In spite of everything,” he would later write, “there is nothing in the world I would rather be doing than working on my book. That, with all its complexities and pains, is the thing I want most to do.”[xxi]

In the days that followed, Edwin worked steadily in The Lost Woods, besieged by reminders of David’s absence. “So much to do!” he declared.[xxii] On Sunday, June 24, he taught the last Victors Sunday School class of the year, having a “fine talk” with two brothers, Warren and Edgar Fong. “So ends the Victors year,” he wrote that evening, “the last year when Davy was linked to it. Twelve years I’ve had the class. Can I keep on if David is gone?”[xxiii] On the following day, Mrs. Selby, a neighbor, brought Lieutenant Henry Loud to see the Teales, ostensibly to give them some insight on what might have happened to David, but, Edwin noted, he had “little to tell us of help on David. Depressed.”[xxiv] Two days later, on June 27, Forrest Dayton paid a visit to the Teales. Forrest, in Edwin’s estimation “David’s closest friend,” had likewise been deployed to Europe. Now, Forrest had returned, and David had not. It was a hard visit. “Headache lays me low in afternoon,” Edwin noted. In a postscript in the Guild diary, he added, “Twenty-eighth Chapter Done! Only Two to Go!”[xxv] One of these chapters was “The Calm of the Stars,” which could now serve only to memorialize David.

By July 1, the revised deadline for completion of the full draft of The Lost Woods, Edwin had only “The Calm of the Stars” left to complete. He spent the morning working on it but got “only two pages done,”[xxvi] using the rest of the day to review the completed chapters and rearrange their final order. It was not the day he had hoped for. The following morning, he began working at 7:30 a.m. and continued “until 8:52 p.m., with only time out for meals and a ½ hour sunbath.” With this last dash, as he often put it, he “completed the final difficult chapter on ‘The Calm of the Stars.’” He added: “Book completed, ready for revision, one day beyond my schedule—Thankful.”[xxvii] His celebration was understandably muted. Absent in his Guild diary entry are the flourishes with which he typically marked the completion of a book, even in its rough draft form. There are no headlines written in oversized characters; no ornate stacks of underlining elevate particular words; no geometric shapes adorn the margins; his daily progress note at the bottom of the page is formatted no differently than those of the preceding weeks. Instead, he noted in the sentences that followed: “Saddened by paragraphs in this chapter on Davy at Weller Pond. How impossible to believe he may never go on that trip again—never.”[xxviii]

The following day, Edwin took the 10:19 train into the city to visit Popular Science Monthly for a “reunion with the old crowd. Lunch with Richards, Samuels and de Santas. How thankful I have escaped the cells of 353 Fourth Ave!”[xxix] The juxtaposition of this reunion with the completion of the full draft of The Lost Woods is telling. While the “reunion” was certainly planned in advance, so too was the completion of the book draft, and Edwin had missed his target by only one day. Through this visit, he placed the celebration of one of the many fruits of the recent “glorious years in the sunshine”[xxx] alongside memories of the excruciating drudgery of Popular Science Monthly—now a painful phantom. The latter he had compared to “slavery” at a “Concentration Camp” two months earlier.[xxxi] This comparison, which now seems self-absorbed and indifferent to the horrific suffering endured in the camps of the Third Reich, must be considered in the context of the time, during which the ordinary American citizen was ill-informed on the events of Hitler’s war on the Jews, Roma, and other minority groups in Europe. Long-time New York Times journalist Max Frankel noted in 2001, on the 150th anniversary of the paper, that the events of what would only afterward be named the Holocaust “were mostly buried inside [the paper’s] gray and stolid pages, never featured, analyzed or rendered truly comprehensible.” There was, he concluded, no greater journalistic failure “than the staggering, staining failure of The New York Times to depict Hitler’s methodical extermination of the Jews of Europe as a horror beyond all other horrors in World War II,” and the Times’ coverage influenced that of many other journalistic organizations in New York and beyond.[xxxii] On this early day in July, Edwin’s view of the war was trained inward, as it had been two months earlier. The loss of David overshadowed all else, and this reunion with former Popular Science Monthly colleagues offered a spot of sunshine amidst darkening clouds. He could revisit the former site of his emotional and intellectual imprisonment, for an instant, and likewise leave it in an instant, returning to the long-desired life of freedom that he had earned through his toil and his willingness to gamble on a better future. For Edwin, such a juxtaposition of life before and life afterward filled him with gratitude and joy. While these feelings were greatly tempered by the loss of David, they likewise helped him to endure it.

Edwin’s trip to Popular Science Monthly reflects as well another interesting juxtaposition. In 1941, October 15 had for the Teales, with Edwin’s departure from Popular Science Monthly, become their personal Independence Day, a holiday they would celebrate yearly for the remainder of their life together. On July 3, 1945, Edwin’s visit with his former colleagues, one day after the completion of The Lost Woods, was followed a day later by the American holiday of Independence Day, July 4. The Fourth of July had special significance only two months after VE-Day. For most Americans, it was a day to celebrate a long-sought victory, but for the Teales the day was bittersweet at best. Not surprisingly, they spent the entire day in the shelter of the Insect Garden: “Today was as perfect a Fourth as the cloud that hangs over our spirits would permit. All day long in the open at the garden, sitting at a wooden table I found under the wagon shed and catching up on entering my Nature Notes, taking pictures, juggling around the order of the chapters and so forth.” It was, Edwin added, “A ‘Thoreau Day’—unhurried and out-of-doors.”[xxxiii] Nellie, who was and always would be Edwin’s working partner in his writing life, read and offered comment on ten of the new chapters in The Lost Woods. Such an unhurried day was a rarity. “Tomorrow,” Edwin wrote, “I begin the grind—revision and copying—that must get the book in before the end of this month!”[xxxiv] Were David returning, this Fourth of July might have been near-perfect. Edwin knew, however, that he would not, and this fact was driven home the following day when several more of their letters to David were returned. These too were marked “Deceased” but lacked the previous change to “Missing.” On each letter, to the hand-written word “Deceased” was added a jarring one-word postal stamp: “Verified.”[xxxv]

*          *          *          *          *          *          *

Burying himself still deeper in his labors on the book, Edwin set for himself a schedule that would bring The Lost Woods to its final form by July 26. It required the revision and retyping of thirty chapters in twenty-one days. With the mass of assisstive computer technology available to us in the twenty-first century, along with the unprecedented access to information provided by the Internet, we are largely ignorant of the sheer physical labors that an author undertook in 1945 to bring a book to publication.  We can do a great deal more, now, with less labor, but one wonders if the ease of publication has largely contributed to us doing considerably less with the more we have been given. For Edwin to remain on schedule, he would have to type an average of two revised chapters per day. On July 5, despite the emotional drain of the return of their letters to David, Edwin finished two chapters.[xxxvi] On the following day, he completed “The Striking Serpent” and “On the Trail of Thoreau,” bringing the total to four and keeping him on schedule.  It was a good start, and Edwin, realizing that speed and efficiency were critical if he was to maintain this pace, devised “with paper clips and an empty velour Black box […] a ms. holder that holds the sheet I am copying upright and aids me greatly.”[xxxvii]

The following day, July 7, Edwin managed to type three additional chapters. “Laboremus!” he declared at the opening of his Guild diary entry for that day, a Latin word meaning “Let us do our work!” Later in the century, the phrase “Laboremus! Let’s get to work!” was widely attributed to twentieth-century historian Arnold J. Toynbee as a favored motto.[xxxviii] For Edwin, however, at the end of the first week of July in 1945, it was less a life philosophy and more a pragmatic necessity. His completion of three chapters on the previous day allowed him, on July 8, to embark on a 7 a.m. “fishing trip on the bay with the Verity’s,” Baldwin neighbors. It was, Edwin noted, a much-needed “good time and good rest.” Returning home by 2:00 in the afternoon, Edwin slept for several hours, rising at 4:30, “half asleep,” and began typing “The Mystery of the Vanishing Flies,” finishing it by 8:00 that evening.[xxxix] This kept up the needed rate of two retyped chapters completed per day, a pace he managed to maintain on July 9 and 10 as well.

“No word of David—expected July 2 letter from Government,” Edwin noted on July 9.[xl]  In the April 3 confirmation letter that followed the telegram notifying the Teales of David’s MIA status, Major General James Alexander Ulio of the War Department had written, “If no information is received in the meantime, I will communicate with you again three months from the date of this letter.”[xli] Those three months had elapsed, with one week added. Though certain of its contents, Edwin likely feared that the arrival of this letter—certain to mirror the official communications received by the Strohs and the Alvears—might cripple his ability to keep to the demanding schedule of the days ahead. It would be a staggering, final blow. Edwin’s feverish work during this time to bring The Lost Woods to completion was in part a race against the arrival of that blow, especially now that the book was nearly done. Just as he had worked diligently throughout the day before V-E Day—“…in case there is bad news I will have that much done and that will help”—he did so again on July 9.

On July 10, CBS Radio called to invite Edwin to be a guest “on the ‘Invitation to Learning’ program…on Maeterlinck’s ‘Life of the Bee.’” The Nobel Prize-winning Maeterlinck had written to Edwin after the latter’s 1940 publication of The Golden Throng: A Book About Bees, declaring, “This will be the Bible of the Bees!” The praise, Edwin noted, “lifted my feet off the ground for a moment….”[xlii] With authentic regret, Edwin declined the CBS Radio invitation, knowing he would “need every minute for my own book!”[xliii] Having completed two more chapters, he retired to bed at 6:00 that evening with a sore throat and fever—the strain of his working pace taking its toll—and spent some time “going over chapters in bed.”[xliv] Twelve chapters were retyped in their final form, with eighteen remaining. As of July 12, there was still “no word from government on Davy,” and Edwin spent the day working on “Men of Nature,” completing it by 2:30 that afternoon.[xlv]  Combined with his work of the previous day, he was up to fourteen completed chapters. The next day, he completed two more: “Crocodile Dragover” and “A School for Foxes.” “Hurray!” he declared on July 13.[xlvi] By the following day, with a thorough revision of “In the Heart of a Cloud,” he was “on schedule or a little ahead of it,” feeling “pretty good.”[xlvii] In the afternoon he went to the Insect Garden, where he photographed a “yellow swallowtail” butterfly. These were the productive days in which Edwin had reveled for many years, and he did so now, despite his grief.

Edwin awoke on July 15, a Sunday, to what would be daylong rain. He stayed in bed until after 9 a.m. following “a sleepless night with dreams of David.”[xlviii] On the previous day, he had begun the final retyping of “The Lost Woods,” the book’s opening chapter. In it, he recalled simpler days spent with Gram and Gramp Way at Lone Oak. He retold the story of a trip by horse-drawn bobsled with Gramp Way “to a distant woods” to gather stored stove wood. Growing weary of loading the sled, Edwin, then six, had “wandered about, small as an atom, among the great trees—oak and beech, hickory and ash and sycamore.”  He had been “at once enchanted and fearful,” and the experience made “a profound impression” on the six-year-old boy, filling him with “an endless curiosity about this lonely tract and all of its inhabitants.”[xlix]  Edwin had searched in vain for these woods with his childhood friend Dewey Gunder on March 16, 1945 during his Midwestern lecture tour[l]—forty years after his only visit to them, and the same day David was declared missing. It is hardly surprising that Edwin’s dreams the previous night were occupied by David, to whom, like the lost woods of childhood, Edwin could not return except in memory—the inadequate, longing-filled shell of former joys.

Edwin spent time that day revising only the “first page and a half of ‘The Lost Woods’” before shifting his attention—perhaps because of his deep emotional connections to the chapter—to “Boundaries of the Night,” on which he spent time “revising and inserting more natural history.”[li] Edward H. Dodd Jr. had suggested in March that the book as a whole, while representing Edwin’s finest work to date, was in need of “more natural-history facts.”[lii] By early afternoon, the eighteenth retyped chapter was done, and he read for several hours in Volume II of Thoreau’s journals, a shelter from the emotional rigors of a difficult day.[liii] That evening, Nellie read to him from J.S. Fletcher’s detective novel The Box Hill Murder, which, Edwin noted, “relaxes my mind—just what I needed.”[liv]

By July 19, Edwin had revised and retyped twenty-one chapters in fourteen days, 223 pages in total. He was up at 5:20 a.m. after a “wakeful night.” He reviewed some of Nellie’s corrections and set about preparing the first two-thirds of the final manuscript for submission to Dodd, Mead for the production of galley proofs. He ordered and numbered the pages and by noon had “the whole thing wrapped up in its Keeboard ‘The Lost Woods’ box to deliver.”[lv]  He took the 12:45 train into the city and arrived in a downpour, taking “muggy, stifling subways by round-about way” to Dodd, Mead’s 28th Street office, probably to keep the manuscript—not himself—out of the rain as much as possible. During a “good meeting” with Edward H. Dodd, Jr., the latter suggested a possible reissue of a revised version of Edwin’s 1942 Byways to Adventure. He also asked Edwin to “supply photos and [an] introduction” for a forthcoming reissue from Dodd, Mead of Henry David Thoreau’s Walden[lvi]—a project which, for Edwin, was especially meaningful in light of recent events. Dodd certainly knew this, and the offering of this project—or at least its timing—may have been intended in part as a modest balm for Edwin’s great suffering, an occupier for a troubled mind and heart. Back in Baldwin by 4:30 that afternoon, Edwin and Nellie went to the theater to celebrate the accomplishments and the future prospects of the day, both of which gave further shelter from, or perhaps tolerable passage through, the present darkness.

Following the celebration of the previous evening, Edwin went directly back to work on July 20, faced with the revision and retyping of nine chapters in seven days. With the arrival of confirmed news of David’s death seeming imminent, his grief-laden efforts were all the more daunting but likewise critical. After a short early-morning trip to the Insect Garden, he began to organize his materials for the remaining chapters.  His fatigue of the recent weeks, however, made sustained work difficult, and he had to lie down and rest for an hour. “If I can get one chapter copied somehow today,” he noted, “will keep on my schedule.” He managed only to type out half of the “Snowflake chapter…in sweltering heat” and quit for the day.[lvii] That night, he garnered his optimism as best he could. “Rested now,” he wrote, “and ready to go!”[lviii] On the following day, however, his fatigue set fully in. With great exasperation, he wrote, “Copy page 1 of ‘Wildlife at Walden’ over 10 times—making typing mistakes over and over. Ready to go through the roof!”[lix] Here again we are reminded of the absence of a delete key in 1945. “My head like a rock,” he lamented, “with heat and fatigue—residue.”[lx] Residue. The residue of longing; the residue of trampled hopes; the residue of time’s indifferent forward march. Still, by evening he had finished the chapter and even took time to mull over plans for “a new book on the injurious insects.”[lxi] Of necessity, he kept his gaze forward.

While toiling away on the first full draft of the The Lost Woods, Edwin had put off writing “The Calm of the Stars”—what the reader might reasonably call the David chapter—until the end. On July 22, however, after a quick trip to the wagon shed at the Insect Garden “to photograph baby swallows,” he set to work on revising it ahead of the other six chapters that remained to finalize. He wrote only one sentence on this effort in the Guild diary: “Fall to on ‘The Calm of the Stars’ and finish it before lunch.”[lxii] With the looming likelihood of receiving confirmation of David’s death—both from the War Department and an expected letter from PFC Harold F. Gould Jr.— Edwin likely strove to complete the chapter as quickly as he could. On the previous day he had expressed his “hope to go faster after today,” and he did so. After completing “The Calm of the Stars,” he went on to revise and retype another chapter. “Five chapters to do in four days,” he noted, “then all will be done!”[lxiii]

The next day, following the pattern of recent weeks—an alternating rhythm of productivity and debilitation—Edwin fell prey to the latter:

Up feeling dead-headed. The successive days of rain; the high-pressure work; the strain of David; the suspense of waiting for a call from Harold Gould—the returning member of Davy’s patrol—and the call from Dodd on how he liked the first 21 chapters—all combined to stall my engine completely.[lxiv]

 

In total, Edwin completed “less than 2 pages on ‘World of the Wild Bee,’”[lxv] disheartening output in light of the revision timeline for the final chapters. Edwin was likely forthright about his struggles with Edward H. Dodd, Jr. during a telephone call later that day. He noted afterward, “I get a reprieve; don’t have to hand the final chapters in until next Monday.”  Feeling relieved, he and Nellie went out to see a movie and were in “bed and asleep by 9” with the “hope to do better tomorrow!”[lxvi] That hope would not, however, come to fruition.

*          *          *          *          *          *          *

On July 24, 1945, the storm cloud that had loomed since April 2 finally and fully broke open. There would be no word from David, not now, not ever. There would be only word of David, and it would come first from Harold F. Gould, Jr., of Plymouth, Massachusetts, in a letter written on small stationary whose only letterhead was the figure of a running G.I. clad in drab fatigues and clasping an M1 Garand rifle, bayonet mounted, a field bag trailing from his ammunition belt. The soldier grins at the letter’s reader—a mask muting the “unredeemed horrors” of war—and that grin must have made the Teales shudder.

The first page of a letter sent by Private First Class Harold F. Gould, Jr. to Edwin Way Teale on July 23, 1945. Gould explained the events leading up to the March 16, 1945 death of David Teale on Germany’s Moselle River during the closing days of World War II.

Gould began by apologizing for not calling, as camp prohibitions had forbidden doing so. “Anyway,” he wrote, “I thought it would be better if I wrote you a letter. I figured that I could explain it to you better.”[lxvii] He wrote of how he and David “used to chum around together quite often,” and how the Tiger Patrol “did mostly night work.” In that capacity, Gould added, David “was very courageous,” and “all the boys liked Dave very much.”[lxviii] These formalities aside—and one imagines the Teales having the impulse to skip over them while, at the same time, dreading to do so—he came “down to the point” and detailed the events that led to David’s death on the Moselle River:

We had received our orders from commander that we were to cross the Mosel[le] River and get some important information that we needed for the attack. We had twelve men in the patrol and four rubber boats. Three men were assigned to each rubber boat. We had been broken up into two six man patrols. We all started in our rubber boats across the river, just as the boats were nearing the enemy side we were opened up on by machine guns. The boys shot back at them until they ran out of ammunition. Then they withdrew so that they could get more ammunition. They came back again and started in their boats across. They met heavy opposition and the boats were sprayed with bullets. Some of the compartments in the rubber boats were shot to pieces so I guess the boys got a little excited when they saw this so they started jumping over. That was their gravest mistake…Especially for Dave because before he went on this patrol he told us he couldn’t swim. He still volunteered to go on the patrol and I’ve always admired him for that.

The last time they ever saw Dave he was in the water calling for help but none of the boys could reach him because he went under this time and never came up. It’s very strange that the army couldn’t find his body.[lxix]

To this account, Harold Gould added a second reference to David’s inability to swim:

If David could swim he would have had a good chance of coming out alive. I still remember what he said before we went on patrol. He said “I don’t know how to swim but I’ll volunteer to go on patrol.[”]

 

This must have confused the Teales greatly. David was, by Edwin’s account, a strong swimmer, a fact supported by a Boy Scouts of America patrol record book among David’s personal belongings. In it, David, as Patrol Leader, had tracked the rank advancements of all of the boys in the Flying Eagle patrol, including himself. On the merit badge roster, beside David’s name, the requisite boxes are checked off for the swimming and lifesaving merit badges.

Harold Gould closed:

I liked your son very much Mr. Teale and I was very proud of him. I know you will always be too.[lxx]

 

Such a statement, though well-intentioned and certainly appreciated, was nonetheless an arrow to the heart. In mid-April, when hope still lived, Edwin had written of David, “He is one of which we are proud in so many ways. And, viewed from the most distant star—remote from our emotions and longings—that is all that counts.”[lxxi] But David’s return, alive, had also counted; so too had the bright future before him—the long walk down the Pacific coast, the possibility of future matriculation at Earlham, the return to Weller Pond, and so much more. All of these would never be. No pride could mitigate the staggering loss of David’s future. “This is it!” Edwin wrote after reading Harold Gould’s letter, “How terrible we feel.”[lxxii] The news was not official, but it was sufficient, and it would be confirmed days later by a letter from PFC Lester Snider, the last Tiger Patrol member to see David alive. There is no record of Edwin having completed any work on The Lost Woods on July 24; even that labor of his heart could offer no refuge. As if an insult to their grief, the afternoon brought the return by special delivery of the package in which Edwin had sent David the Grenfell parka in March, eight days before the latter’s death. It was one more manifestation of a future that would not be. Boxed in thick lines of black ink, Edwin wrote the following in the Guild diary:

On this day hear definitely, but unofficially, that David was killed on the Moselle River near Coblenz, Germany, on the night of March 15-16, 1945—

 

To this he added a bracketed postscript:

How long and how devoutly I hoped this entry would not have to be made![lxxiii]

 

No tears stain this page. Harold Gould’s letter offered not a revelation but a confirmation of what, in their hearts, Edwin and Nellie already knew. Edwin Stroh’s death had confirmed David’s, and both had been foretold by the death of Antonio Alvear. Harold Gould’s account, though vitally important to the Teales, could serve only as a coda. They certainly cried on July 24, 1945, but they did so in the privacy of their own collapsing world. Edwin left no trace of those tears to revisit later, neither through the narrative of his words nor through their partial dissolution by tears on the page. It is an apt analogy for the turning inward that would follow, both from the greater world and, despite their mutual devotion, often from each other.

*          *          *          *          *          *          *

The day after receiving Harold Gould’s letter, Edwin reached him by telephone. Gould shared that “only 4 out of 12—only 1 out of 6 with David’s 2 boats—returned alive after crossing the Moselle.”[lxxiv] One of those four, PFC Lester Snider, of Hennessey, Oklahoma, had been in charge of David’s boat and was “the last one to see David alive.”[lxxv] Snider had returned home, and Edwin wrote to him that afternoon. “Our son, David Teale, was reported missing in action on March 16th,” Edwin began, “and we have had no word from the government since….I have learned that you went across at the same time David did and that you were the last person to see him alive. If you can give us any information about what happened, we will be most deeply grateful.”[lxxvi] Snider received Edwin’s inquiry on July 30 and replied the following day, offering his account:

Six of the boys including your son David volunteered for reconnaissance patrol. We crossed to the east of the Mosel[le] River in two boats. Your son David + another boy were with me in the one boat. We made a successful reconnaissance of enemy positions + possible landing places.

While making the return trip across the river we encountered heavy enemy machine gun + sniper fire. Our boat was hit + sank. And one of the boys was hit but don’t know exactly which one. The last I saw of either of the boys was when they went over the side of the boat into the water.[lxxvii]

 

Just as Gould had done, Lester Snider praised David’s selflessness: “I didn’t know your son very long Mr. Teale. But he was well liked by all the boys. And he was a son to be proud of. He didn’t have to go on this mission, but realizing the danger, volunteered to do so.”[lxxviii] David had volunteered; for this he had died. Although Edwin, half a year earlier, had written of war death that “the collapse of character alone was tragedy,”[lxxix] this abstract philosophy abruptly withered with David’s death. David’s character had not collapsed on the night of March 15, 1945; his courage and his character had towered above those of others. For this David had died, and his death was a tragedy. His life, no matter how its worth had been elevated by his actions, was no less “a plaything of fate,”[lxxx] and this embittered Edwin terribly. “All hope gone,” he wrote. “Life goes on no matter how heavy the heart! Life outlives the joy of life; the spring is wound up and, normally, has to run down. And it can’t be rewound.”[lxxxi] David’s spring had not run down. It never would. It had been cracked by the violent folly of war, and with that fracture had gone all the youthful tension of future possibility.

 

 

Richard Telford has taught literature and composition at The Woodstock Academy since 1997. In 2011, he helped found the Edwin Way Teale Artists in Residence at Trail Wood program, which he now directs. He was a long-time contributing writer for The Ecotone Exchange. He was recently awarded a Rose and Sigmund Strochlitz Travel Grant by the University of Connecticut to support his work on a book about naturalist, writer, and photographer Edwin Way Teale. The Woodstock Academy Board of Trustees likewise granted him a sabbatical for the 2016-2017 academic year to support this work.

 

References

Farrer, Reginald. The Void of War: Letters from Three Fronts. Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1918.

Frankel, Max. “150th Anniversary: 1851-2001; Turning Away From the Holocaust.” The New York Times 14 November 2001. Available from: http://www.nytimes.com/2001/11/14/news/150th-anniversary-1851-2001-turning-away-from-the-holocaust.html

Gould, Harold F. Jr., Letter to Edwin Way Teale, 23 July, 1945, Box 146, Folder 2952, Edwin  Way Teale Papers 1799-1995, Archives and Special Collections, Thomas J. Dodd Research Center, University of Connecticut Libraries.

Gould, Walter F., Letter to Edwin Way Teale, 16 June, 1945, Box 146, Folder 2952, Edwin Way Teale Papers 1799-1995, Archives and Special Collections, Thomas J. Dodd  Research Center, University of Connecticut Libraries.

“Ecleasiastes.” The Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version: New York: Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1952.

Ikeda, Daisaku. The Third Stage of Life: Aging in Contemporary Society: Santa Monica, CA: World Tribune Press, 2016.

Parker Pen Company. Advertisement. The Saturday Evening Post. 1 April 1945.

Snider, Lester L., Letter to Edwin Way Teale, letter, 31 July 1945, Box 146, Folder 2952, Edwin Way Teale Papers 1799-1995, Archives and Special Collections, Thomas J. Dodd Research Center, University of Connecticut Libraries.

Snider, Lester L., Letter to Edwin Way Teale, letter, 21 August 1945, Box 146, Folder 2952, Edwin Way Teale Papers 1799-1995, Archives and Special Collections, Thomas J. Dodd Research Center, University of Connecticut Libraries.

Teale, David Allen, Letters to Edwin Way, Nellie Donovan, April to December, 1944, Box 146, Folder 2949, Edwin Way Teale Papers 1799-1995, Archives and Special Collections, Thomas J. Dodd Research Center, University of Connecticut Libraries.

Teale, David Allen, Letters to Edwin Way and Nellie Donovan Teale, 1945, Box 146, Folder 2950, Edwin Way Teale Papers 1799-1995, Archives and Special Collections, Thomas J. Dodd Research Center, University of Connecticut Libraries.

Teale, Edwin Way. Adventures in Making a Living: Volume II, unpublished journal, February 1944 to May 1946. Box 113, Edwin Way Teale Papers 1799-1995, Archives and Special Collections, Thomas J. Dodd Research Center, University of Connecticut Libraries.

Teale, Edwin Way and Nellie Donovan, Letters to David Allen Teale, 1944, Box145, Folder 2941, Edwin Way Teale Papers 1799-1995, Archives and Special Collections, Thomas    J. Dodd Research Center, University of Connecticut Libraries.

Teale, Edwin Way and Nellie Donovan, Letters to David Allen Teale, 1945, Box145, Folder 2942, Edwin Way Teale Papers 1799-1995, Archives and Special Collections, Thomas    J. Dodd Research Center, University of Connecticut Libraries.

Teale, Edwin Way. Guild diary, 1945. Box 99, Edwin Way Teale Papers 1799-1995, Archives and Special Collections, Thomas J. Dodd Research Center, University of Connecticut Libraries.

Teale, Edwin Way, Letter to Herbert F. Schwarz 25 May 1942, collection of the author.

Teale, Edwin Way. The Lost Woods. New York: Dodd, Mead , and Company, 1945.

“Tiger Patrol First to Enter Koblenz.” Unsigned news clipping, 1945, no bibliographical information noted.

Ulio, James Alexander, Letter to Nellie Donovan Teale, 3 April, 1944, Box 146, Folder 2952, Edwin Way Teale Papers 1799-1995, Archives and Special Collections, Thomas J. Dodd Research Center, University of Connecticut Libraries.

Witsell, Major General Edward F., to Nellie Teale, letter, 25 February 1946, Box 146, Folder 2952, Edwin Way Teale Papers 1799-1995, Archives and Special Collections, Thomas J.   Dodd Research Center, University of Connecticut Libraries.

 

Notes

[i] Ecclesiastes 1, 9-13. The Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version: New York: Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1952.

[ii] Farrer, Reginald. The Void of War: Letters from Three Fronts. Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 37-8.

[iii] Teale, Edwin Way. Adventures in Making a Living, Vol II. 3 January 1945.

[iv] Parker Pen Company. Advertisement. The Saturday Evening Post. 1 April 1945.

[v] Teale, David Allen, to Nellie Donovan Teale, letter, 1 November 1944.

[vi] Teale, David Allen, to Edwin Way Teale, letter, 16 November 1944.

[vii] Ibid.

[viii] Teale, Edwin Way. Adventures in Making a Living, Vol II. 8 August 1945.

[ix] Teale, Edwin Way. Guild diary 1945. 18 June 1945.

[x] Ibid.

[xi] Ibid.

[xii] Teale, Edwin Way. Guild diary 1945. 20 June 1945.

[xiii] Gould, Walter F., to Edwin Way Teale, letter, 16 June 1945.

[xiv] Ibid.

[xv] Teale, Edwin Way. Guild diary 1945. 22 June 1945.

[xvi] Teale, Edwin Way, to David Allen Teale, letter, 18 July 1944.

[xvii] Teale, Edwin Way, to David Allen Teale, letter, 29 July 1944.

[xviii] Teale, Edwin Way. Guild diary 1945. 23 June 1945.

[xix] Teale, Edwin Way. Guild diary 1945. 28 June 1945.

[xx] Teale, Edwin Way. Guild diary 1945. 18 June 1945.

[xxi] Teale, Edwin Way. Guild diary 1945. 28 June 1945.

[xxii] Teale, Edwin Way. Guild diary 1945. 24 June 1945.

[xxiii] Ibid.

[xxiv] Teale, Edwin Way. Guild diary 1945. 25 June 1945.

[xxv] Teale, Edwin Way. Guild diary 1945. 27 June 1945.

[xxvi] Teale, Edwin Way. Guild diary 1945. 1 July 1945.

[xxvii] Teale, Edwin Way. Guild diary 1945. 2 July 1945.

[xxviii] Ibid.

[xxix] Teale, Edwin Way. Guild diary 1945. 3 July 1945.

[xxx] Teale, Edwin Way. Adventures in Making a Living, Vol II. 25 August 1945.

[xxxi] Teale, Edwin Way. Guild diary 1945. 4 May 1945.

[xxxii] Frankel, Max. “150th Anniversary: 1851-2001; Turning Away From the Holocaust.” The New York Times 14. November 2001.

[xxxiii] Teale, Edwin Way. Guild diary 1945. 4 July 1945.

[xxxiv] Ibid.

[xxxv] Teale, Edwin Way. Guild diary 1945. 5 July 1945.

[xxxvi] Ibid.

[xxxvii] Teale, Edwin Way. Guild diary 1945. 6 July 1945.

[xxxviii] Ikeda, Daisaku. The Third Stage of Life: Aging in Contemporary Society: Santa Monica, CA: World Tribune Press, 2016.

[xxxix] Teale, Edwin Way. Guild diary 1945. 8 July 1945.

[xl] Teale, Edwin Way. Guild diary 1945. 9 July 1945.

[xli] Ulio, James Alexander, to Nellie Donovan Teale, letter, 3 April 1945.

[xlii] Teale, Edwin Way, to Herbert F. Schwarz, 25 May 1942.

[xliii] Teale, Edwin Way. Guild diary 1945. 10 July 1945.

[xliv] Ibid.

[xlv] Teale, Edwin Way. Guild diary 1945. 12 July 1945.

[xlvi] Teale, Edwin Way. Guild diary 1945. 13 July 1945.

[xlvii] Teale, Edwin Way. Guild diary 1945. 14 July 1945.

[xlviii] Teale, Edwin Way. Guild diary 1945. 15 July 1945.

[xlix] Teale Edwin Way. The Lost Woods. New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1945. 1-3

[l] Teale, Edwin Way. Guild diary 1945. 16 March 1945.

[li] Teale, Edwin Way. Guild diary 1945. 15 July 1945.

[lii] Teale, Edwin Way. Guild diary 1945. 6 March 1945.

[liii] Teale, Edwin Way. Guild diary 1945. 15 July 1945.

[liv] Teale, Edwin Way. Guild diary 1945. 12 July 1945.

[lv] Teale, Edwin Way. Guild diary 1945. 19 July 1945.

[lvi] Ibid.

[lvii] Teale, Edwin Way. Guild diary 1945. 20 July 1945.

[lviii] Ibid.

[lix] Teale, Edwin Way. Guild diary 1945. 21 July 1945.

[lx] Ibid.

[lxi] Ibid.

[lxii] Teale, Edwin Way. Guild diary 1945. 22 July 1945.

[lxiii] Ibid.

[lxiv] Teale, Edwin Way. Guild diary 1945. 23 July 1945.

[lxv] Ibid.

[lxvi] Ibid.

[lxvii] Gould, Jr., Harold F., to Edwin Way Teale, letter, 23 July 1945.

[lxviii] Ibid.

[lxix] Ibid.

[lxx] Ibid.

[lxxi] Teale, Edwin Way. Adventures in Making a Living, Vol II. 18 April 1945.

[lxxii] Teale, Edwin Way. Guild diary 1945. 24 July 1945.

[lxxiii] Ibid.

[lxxiv] Teale, Edwin Way. Guild diary 1945. 25 July 1945.

[lxxv] Ibid.

[lxxvi] Teale, Edwin Way, to Lester L. Snider, letter, 25 July 1945.

[lxxvii] Snider, Lester L., to Edwin Way Teale, letter, 31 July 1945.

[lxxviii] Ibid.

[lxxix] Teale, Edwin Way. Adventures in Making a Living, Vol II. 3 January 1945.

[lxxx] Ibid.

[lxxxi] Teale, Edwin Way. Guild diary 1945. 4 August 1945.

Throwing Bricks at the Temple: Reexamining the Life and Writing of Edwin Way Teale

by Richard Telford

Author’s Note: Though the product of many hours of research, writing, and revision, this chapter is nevertheless a draft; it will be subject to revision as the larger book in which it will appear takes shape. The chapter published below, “Throwing Bricks at the Temple,” follows a previous one published last month, “The Lonely Suffering of the Fallible Heart,” which can be viewed here. For greatest clarity, these chapters should be read in order. I welcome critical response, either in the comment section here or through direct e-mail. I am grateful to the Archives and Special Collections staff for providing me the opportunity to share this work, and to the Woodstock Academy Board of Trustees for awarding me a sabbatical for the 2016-2017 school year so that this work could be undertaken.  Contextual information about the project and manuscript can be found here.

 

Chapter 10: Throwing Bricks at the Temple

Again I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to the men of skill; but time and chance happen to them all.[1]

Ecclesiastes 9: 11

When it occurs to a man that nature does not regard him as important, and that she feels she would not maim the universe by disposing of him, he at first wishes to throw bricks at the temple, and he hates deeply the fact that there are no bricks and no temples.[2]

Stephen Crane, “The Open Boat,” 1897

 

Box 219 of the Teale Papers in Archives and Special Collections at the University of Connecticut houses only one object, a Nazi flag measuring roughly 88 inches by 46 inches. Its folds through 71 years of storage have become deeply ingrained, and the viewer is hesitant to pull and flatten it too much. The remaining half of its red field, torn along a diagonal axis, is still bold. It is a monument to a long-dead empire—a Reich, in its own anachronistic parlance—and it is a monument to the fifteen young men who signed their names in the four quadrants formed by the perpendicular bars of the angled cross that forms the center of the black swastika sewn to the circular white central field. Laying the flag down horizontally, as its signers clearly did 72 years ago, the viewer’s eyes are drawn first to bold green script: “Tiger Patrol 346th Infantry.” The four components of this inscription, staggered across the white field, step down the dark lines of the debased Hindu symbol, the second and the third occupying the horizontal pockets formed by the swastika’s angled tails. The capital letters T, P, and I are drawn in rough, oversized calligraphy, and the infantry numbers are drawn with like flourish. Pride, hope, just action for a just cause—all are expressed by the added insignia of this captured flag.

Just as the swastika divides the patrol and regiment designations, so too does it roughly divide the names of the signers. In the north quadrant of the white central field we see the signatures of Antonio J. Alvear, John A. Thompson, Eugene B. Pings, Frank Minnis; along the north-facing tail of the swastika are the signatures of George W. Muschinske, Roy Salame, and Edwin A. Stroh. In the west quadrant are the signatures of Lester L. Snider and Merle H. Patison; adjacent to them and to the right of the scripted “346th” are those of Mahlon Angstead, Billy Richardson, and Ernest Sachau. In the south quadrant, there is only one signature, that of John Steele. Finally, in the east quadrant, moving south to north, are the signatures of Irving J. Greenfield, Harold F. Gould, Jr., Bill Cummins, and, finally, David A. Teale. One can readily imagine Edwin and Nellie Teale intently searching for David’s signature—for any evidence of their only child, declared Missing in Action “somewhere in Germany” five weeks earlier—when the flag arrived to their Baldwin, Long Island home on May 9, 1945. Noting the flag’s arrival in his Guild diary for 1945, Edwin expressed the hope that he and Nellie might “get in touch with those near here” to learn more of the events leading up to David’s disappearance.[3]

Five weeks earlier, on April 3, the day after receiving the first War Department telegram, Edwin wrote, “For so many days, since [leaving Popular Science Monthly in] 1941, I have been awakening to happy dreams in the work I love—Now we wake to the reality of a nightmare we have dreaded—we are hoping and believing that Davy is ‘safe’ as a prisoner.”[4] Both Edwin and Nellie clung tenuously to such hope and belief as bulwarks against waves of grief that now defined “one of the great crises of our lives.”[5] Three days later, on April 6, Edwin wrote, “Little by little, like an island eroding and disappearing in the flood, our standing-space has decreased—our hopes are now basing themselves on other hopes. Grief comes in waves.”[6] Still, the Teales armored themselves with “thoughts of hope: that patrols are likely to be captured; that the wars may end soon and all prisoners will be released.”[7] David’s work in the Tiger Patrol, conducted mostly near and behind enemy lines, justified this hope, but it likewise placed him in greater danger, and Edwin wrote on April 6 that such hopes were “only small, shining stars in the universal darkness.”[8] Expressing the despair that was the constant counterpoint of such hopes, he wrote, “The sun is gone from the sky.”[9]

Nearly thirty years later, in 1974, coming to terms with his newly received prostate cancer diagnosis, Edwin would reflect back on the agonizing uncertainty of the 132 days during which David was declared missing and his fate unknown to them: “Remembering the year David was missing in action and contemplating my current condition, it occurs to me that, in some ways, it is easier to face the inevitable than the uncertain.”[10] In the early days of April 1945, however, uncertainty was exceedingly more palatable than relinquishing hope to the certainty of David’s death.

The Teales straddled a thin, ever-shifting line between despair and hope, and the fragmental evidence of David’s fate that came to them throughout that dark spring was alternately palliative and jarring. David’s final letter, written March 14, arrived on April 5, thirty-three days before the delivery of the Nazi flag. “How precious and how hard to read,” Edwin wrote of the March 14 letter in the Guild diary, adding, “The date on the outside was March 19th and the postboy thought that meant he was all right”[11]—a thin ray of hope. Edwin found “relief from the pain in my heart reading Thoreau’s journals all afternoon,”[12] a practice he would continue in the coming weeks. In Thoreau’s writings and those of W.H. Hudson, he found sanctuary. On April 5, Edwin noted, “’Newsday’ as well as ‘Review-Star’” had “long announcement[s]” on David’s MIA status. “What a joyous day it would be,” he added, “to see the write-ups changed for the better! I alternate between confidence of hope and the depth of black despair.” Still, he was determined to “hope to the end!”[13]

On the following day, April 6, Edwin finished reading the first volume of Thoreau’s journals. Continue reading

This Week: Rachel Carson The Film and Elizabeth Kolbert Speaks at UConn

Rachel Carson, a new documentary film produced for the PBS series American Experience, is now available to watch online marking its debut broadcast on CPTV Connecticut public television.

Archives and Special Collections contributed collection materials to be included in the production of the film and we have been eagerly awaiting its release.

According to PBS, the film draws heavily from Carson’s writings and letters and incorporates recent scholarship: “Rachel Carson illuminates both the public and private life of the woman who launched the modern environmental movement and revolutionized how we understand our relationship with the natural world.”

The film features photographs and letters by the naturalist Edwin Teale from the Edwin Way Teale Papers held here in the Archives and Special Collections. [Read more about the correspondence between Teale and Carson on the blog post “Nature, Wondrous and Fragile” by Richard Telford.]

Silent Spring was published in September 1962 and became a national bestseller.  The film features rarely-seen images and home movies, unpublished letters and writings, and explores the science and public debate surrounding pesticide-use ignited by the book. Special features can be found on the American Experience website, including an introductory essay, bonus video, and an interview with Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and science writer Elizabeth Kolbert.

Join us on Thursday, February 2 at 4:00pm to hear Elizabeth Kolbert’s lecture “The Sixth Extinction” at UConn in the Dodd Research Center.  The event is FREE and open to the public, no registration is required.  The event will be live-streamed, details can be found here.

Elizabeth Kolbert is a staff writer for The New Yorker and won the Pulitzer for The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History and Field Notes from a Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change in 2015. Her series on global warming, The Climate of Man, from which the book was adapted, won the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s magazine writing award and a National Academies communications award. She is a two-time National Magazine Award winner.

The Edwin Way Teale Lecture Series brings leading scholars and scientists to UConn to present public lectures on nature and the environment.  Since 1995, the UConn Library has sponsored the award-winning Edwin Way Teale Lecture Series in partnership with several UConn departments.  The Lecture Series is named in honor of the Pulitzer-prize winning naturalist and author, Edwin Way Teale, whose vast archive of literary manuscripts, letters, diaries and photographs is preserved and accessible at Archives and Special Collections.

 

The Lonely Suffering of the Fallible Heart: Reexamining the Life and Writing of Edwin Way Teale

by Richard Telford

Author’s note: Though the product of many hours of research, writing, and revision, this chapter is nevertheless a draft; it will be subject to revision as the larger book in which it will appear takes shape. Still, I believe it begins an important process of bringing renewed attention to natural history writer and photographer Edwin Way Teale. Teale himself frequently published chapters of his books first in the popular journals of his day, such as Natural History, Audubon, Nature, and Coronet. I welcome critical response, either in the comment section here or through direct e-mail. I am grateful to the Archives and Special Collections staff for providing me the opportunity to share this work, and to the Woodstock Academy Board of Trustees for awarding me a sabbatical for the 2016-2017 school year so that this work could be undertaken.  Contextual information about the project and manuscript can be found here.

 

Chapter 9: The Lonely Suffering of the Fallible Heart

A man said to the universe:
“Sir, I exist!”
“However,” replied the universe,
“The fact has not created in me
A sense of obligation.”[i]

Stephen Crane, from “War is Kind,” 1899

Again and again, reason refutes the claims of worry; again and again, the rational mind points out the mathematical odds and the laws of averages—but again and again, the fallible heart returns to its lonely suffering.[ii]

Edwin Way Teale, March 22, 1945

 

The evening of April 2, 1945 began joyfully for Edwin Way Teale. It was an evening that affirmed his rising stature among the natural history writers of his day and perhaps, too, amongst the former-age titans he revered—Henry David Thoreau, John Burroughs, W.H. Hudson, and others. Two years earlier, he had accepted the John Burroughs Medal for distinguished natural history writing for his 1942 publication of Near Horizons: The Story of an Insect Garden. Now, two years later, he had returned to the American Museum of Natural History in Central Park West, New York, to look on as Rutherford Hayes Platt, a fellow Dodd, Mead natural history writer and photographer, received the Burroughs Medal. Platt’s 1943 This Green World was a book that in spirit, intent, structure, and design closely paralleled Grassroot Jungles (1937) and Near Horizons. Just as Edwin had suggested in 1937 that the amateur student of the insect world could be “like the explorer who sets out for faraway jungles” but do so in “the grassroot jungle at our feet,”[iii] Platt argued in 1943 that such wonders in the botanical world “were not rare nor discovered in a remote place, but were here all the time in the immediate surroundings of the everyday world.”[iv] That evening, Edwin noted later, “Platt pays tribute to my help in his acceptance speech.” He also celebrated his own election as “a Director in the John Burroughs Association” and expressed appreciation for the tenor of the evening, which “from beginning to end was in just the right key. I felt happy, enjoying every minute with no sense of impending doom.” It was “perfectly memorable.”[v]

The brief interlude of unrestrained pleasure that unfolded in “the Hall of the Roosevelt Wing”[vi] on that early April evening offered much-needed reprieve. It was a time marked largely by deep foreboding for Edwin and Nellie Teale as their beloved Davy, their only child, fought near the Siegfried Line during the final collapse of Hitler’s Third Reich. This fear had taken root in the elder Teales’ shared consciousness long before David’s August 1943 enlistment in the Army Specialist Training Program at Syracuse University, long before his transfers to Forts Benning and Jackson after the ASTP was disbanded, and long before his deployment as a Private First Class to the European Theater of Operations in the fall of 1944.[vii] Edwin would later characterize this fear as “the dread of seven years—from 1938 to 1945,”[viii] and it was a dread that consumed the collective consciousness of a generation of parents watching their children come of age during the rise of Fascism and Nazism in Italy and Germany—the future course of which became fully evident with the September 1, 1939 German invasion of Poland—and the apogee of Japanese Imperialism, made plain to the American public by the December 7, 1941 Japanese attack on the U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The Teales’ dread is evident in a brief but poignant anecdote near the end of the eighth chapter of Edwin’s 1945 book The Lost Woods, a book that, for Edwin, would become inextricably linked to David’s wartime service and to his death.

In the aforementioned chapter, “On the Trail of Thoreau,” Edwin chronicles the final leg of a 1939 car trip during which he traced the famous river journey undertaken by Henry and John Thoreau exactly 100 years earlier. Henry Thoreau, in his 1849 A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, wrote in great part to memorialize John, who had died in excruciating pain in his brother’s arms three years after the trip, succumbing to tetanus. Edwin too, in The Lost Woods, would later recount a trip he and David took by canoe on Middle Saranac Lake in upstate New York. “The Calm of the Stars” would be the last chapter completed for the book’s first draft, written while David was declared Missing in Action in Germany. It, too, would later serve as a memorial. In “On the Trail of Thoreau,” Edwin noted how, one century after the Thoreaus’ journey, on September 2, 1939, “the Merrimack flowed as placidly as before around the great bend of Horseshoe Interval.”[ix] The world’s waters, however, were turbulent and troubled: “Thoreau’s September day had been one of comparative peace in the world,” while, “a century later, it was a time of fateful decisions, of onrushing war, of the breaking of nations.”[x] The conclusion of Edwin’s 1939 journey came one day after Nazi Germany’s invasion of Poland, one day before declarations by France and Britain of war on Germany, and six days shy of David’s fourteenth birthday.

Pulling into a filling station that evening, Edwin noticed the attendant, “a young man in his early twenties,” who appeared “silent and preoccupied” as he listened to a “radio […] shattering the Sabbath quiet, raucous with direful news.”[xi] Edwin’s description of this young man is telling. It stands in stark contrast with most of the book’s content, which largely lives up to its subtitle, “Adventures of a Naturalist,” and strays only rarely into social commentary or overt emotionality. Edwin wrote:

We spoke but a few sentences that morning. I have never seen him again. I don’t know his name. Yet, often he has been in mind and his face, like a stirring countenance seen under a streetlamp, has returned many times in memory. Under the blare of the radio, that late-summer Sunday, we were drawn together by a common uncertainty, by a common experience. Although we were strangers before and strangers we have remained since, we were, for that tragic moment, standing unforgettably together. I have often wondered about his fate in the years that followed.[xii]

Continue reading

Great Years, Great Crises, Great Impact: Reexamining the Life and Writing of Edwin Way Teale

by Richard Telford

uconn_asc_1981-0009_box270_env1724_ed_and_nellie_1948Shortly before American natural history writer Edwin Way Teale died in 1980, he agreed, with his beloved wife and working partner, Nellie Donovan Teale, to donate all of his literary and personal papers and related materials to the University of Connecticut. It was an extraordinary gift. Teale documented his working life and his personal life to an astonishing degree, often keeping several journals concurrently, each with a distinct purpose. For example, from 1938 until 1980, Teale kept an annual daily diary. In 1945, of these diaries he wrote, “These books record the days of the great years of our lives.”[i] These were short but highly detailed records. During the same period he kept these diaries, Teale likewise wrote more elaborated journal entries in Adventures in Making a Living, an unpublished, ongoing narrative of his life. This he called the “book of my heart.”[ii] While here, too, he recorded daily events, frequently overlapping those recorded in the diaries, he also reflected on them in deeper ways. Here, he celebrated the triumphs of his life and reconciled the tragedies. Here, he tried to confer order and sensibility on the world of human affairs, a world that often bewildered him. The ninth and final volume of this 43-year journal was dedicated solely to the final days of his life, beginning with his prostate cancer diagnosis in 1974. Even this most personal and final journey he documented in detail and left as a record. And, these two records of a meaningfully-spent life, as rich as they are, represent only a very small fraction of the materials housed in his voluminous papers.

This year, through the generosity of the Administration and the Board of Trustees of Woodstock Academy, where I have taught for two decades, I have been granted a year-long sabbatical to complete research at the Dodd Research Center, research that will enable me to write a book-length work on Edwin Way Teale. This builds upon three years of generous support of my work by the Archives and Special Collections Department at the University of Connecticut, which has provided me financial assistance through the Rose and Sigmund Strochlitz Travel Grant program. I am very grateful for this support, and for the extensive on-site help of the Archives staff, particularly Melissa Watterworth Batt.

John Burroughs, whom Edwin Way Teale admired greatly, wrote in 1902, “The day inevitably comes to every writer when he must take his place amid the silent throngs of the past.”[iii] While this has come to be the case for Edwin Way Teale—and John Burroughs too—I am not convinced it has to be. Teale has much to offer us now, especially as we face an environmental crisis in which our resource exploitation and waste production cannot continue at current rates without grave consequences for the Earth and, ultimately, for ourselves. Now, as I continue my research within the vast holdings of the Teale Papers and begin the book in earnest, I am both awed by the enormity of the task and excited by the opportunity. Teale’s significant body of published work and his profound impact on the modern conservation movement—particularly through his support of and influence upon many of its principle figures, including Rachel Carson and Edward Abbey—merits reexamination.

The generosity of the Archives and Special Collections staff has extended so far as to allow me to publish a series of representative chapter drafts in this forum as the research and writing processes unfold. These will inevitably evolve as I make new discoveries in the collection. Still, even in draft form, I believe that these chapters can play a meaningful part in bringing the contents of the Teale Papers out into the light of public view, perhaps prompting thoughtful reflection on their importance. I am deeply grateful to the Archives and Special Collections staff for this opportunity, and I welcome public comment and insight on my work here, either through the comment forum on the blog or through direct communication (contact information below). .

On a practical note, the first three chapters to be featured in this forum document events in roughly the middle period of Edwin Way Teale’s life. Though I plan to address Teale’s early life in the book as well, my intuition told me to start where I did, during the period when Edwin and Nellie’s beloved son David, their only child, was serving in Europe late in the Second World War, a period that Edwin called “one of the great crises of our lives.”[iv]

Richard Telford teaches literature and composition at Woodstock Academy in Connecticut.  He has a BA in English from the University of New Hampshire, an MS in English Education from the University of Bridgeport, and an MS in Environmental Studies from Green Mountain College. Working with the Connecticut Audubon Society, he helped design and found the Edwin Way Teale Artists in Residence at Trail Wood program, which he directs.  He was recently awarded a Rose and Sigmund Strochlitz Travel Grant by the University of Connecticut to support his manuscript for a book-length work on naturalist, writer and photographer Edwin Way Teale.

References

Burroughs, John. Literary Values and Other Papers. Boston and New York: Houghton, Mifflin and Company,1902.

Teale, Edwin Way. Adventures in Making a Living: Volume II, unpublished journal, February 1944 to May 1946. Box 113, Edwin Way Teale Papers 1799-1995, Archives and Special Collections, Thomas J. Dodd Research Center, University of Connecticut Libraries.

Teale, Edwin Way. Guild diary, 1945. Box 99, Edwin Way Teale Papers 1799-1995, Archives and Special Collections, Thomas J. Dodd Research Center, University of Connecticut Libraries.

Footnotes:

[i] Teale, Edwin Way. Adventures in Making a Living, Vol II. 3 January 1945.

[ii] Teale, Edwin Way. Adventures in Making a Living, Vol II.18 April 1945.

[iii] Burroughs, John. Literary Values and Other Papers. 1

[iv] Teale, Edwin Way. Guild diary 1945. 4 April 1945.

Nature, Wondrous and Fragile: The Correspondence Of Rachel Carson and Edwin Way Teale Preserved in the Edwin Way Teale Papers

By Richard Telford

Overwhelm.  No other word so aptly describes the feeling of entering the world of Edwin Way Teale as it has been preserved in the Edwin Way Teale Papers housed in the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center at the University of Connecticut.  The collection, comprised of 238 linear feet of boxed materials, is extensive.  In it, one finds expected things—journals; assorted draft manuscripts; early publications; correspondence; news clippings; thousands of photographic prints and negatives; materials related to his spiritual mentors like Thoreau and Burroughs; and a host of other like contents. One also finds unexpected things—a passbook for a savings account maintained from 1943-1957; an unidentified back door key; a stack of cardstock paper, each sheet containing lines of evenly spaced “Edwin Way Teale” signatures in neat script; a pair of glasses absent their lenses; and Edwin and Nellie’s 1927 motor vehicle registration, to name a few.  And within the collection there are myriad trails, so to speak, between items.  The draft manuscripts of book chapters in one part of the collection link to corresponding photographic prints housed elsewhere, or to a “biography” of the final book—a kind of scrapbook that Teale created for a book following its publication.  Just as Teale documented the natural world in extraordinarily fine detail, so too did he document his life.  In both cases, it seems, preservation was central in his mind.  Clearly, he aimed in his public life to pass on to coming generations a record of the natural world shaped by his vision of it, with the hope that they too might likewise value and, ultimately, conserve it.  His compulsion to preserve a record of his private life, for whatever value that record might likewise confer to future generations, is unequivocal.  In both cases, Teale left a record of extraordinary value, a record that is maintained with great care by the staff of Archives and Special Collections at the Dodd Carson and TealeResearch Center.

My mother-in-law sometimes invokes an analogy to speak of the approach to seemingly overwhelming tasks: “You need to put water in the sink.”  This analogy is framed by the experience of beholding an overwhelming pile of dirty dishes in the sink, and her point, of course, is that you have to begin somewhere.  Arriving to the Dodd Center in the late spring of 2014, through the generosity of a Strochlitz Travel Research Grant, I felt overwhelmed by the question of where to begin.  Having researched Teale’s influence on the DDT controversy that started around 1945 and enlisted such notables as Teale, Richard Pough, and E.B. White, I had learned of the correspondence between Teale and Rachel Carson on this subject and many others.  Though my larger goal for the summer was to delve deeply into Teale’s four 500-page journals kept at Trail Wood from 1959 to 1980, I felt the need to start more simply.  For me, the water in the sink of the Edwin Way Teale Papers was the file of correspondence between Rachel Carson and Edwin Way Teale, which starts in 1949 and ends in 1966, shortly after Carson’s death.  The correspondence is largely one-sided, in that only a few of Teale’s letters to Carson are preserved in the file via carbon paper copies or rough drafts—though some of this correspondence is also preserved in the Rachel Carson Papers at Yale’s Beinecke Library.  These letters in the Teale Papers, albeit limited in number, are rich and full of meaning, inviting deep exploration and careful exposition.

In 1942, seven years before the first correspondence in this file, Teale had published Near Horizons: The Story of an Insect Garden to great acclaim, winning the John Burroughs Medal for distinguished natural history writing in 1943.  Building on his success with Grassroot Jungles, published in 1937 and featured on page one of The New York Times Book Review, Teale had established himself as an expert on insect life and as one of the foremost macro photographers in the world, pioneering many insect photography techniques that subsequently came into common use.  Nonetheless, despite its national prominence, the rented four-acre Baldwin, Long Island plot that had been the subject of Near Horizons and the material source for both books was soon sold by its landlord to the Baldwin School Board.  The insect garden that Teale had painstakingly built over six years was abruptly subject to the bulldozer of progress.  This devastated Teale, and Carson, in a typed September 19, 1950 letter in which she invites him to be a part of the 1951-1952 National Audubon Society lecture series, adds the following handwritten postscript:  “I am sad about the Insect Garden. One lovely thing after another is swallowed up by ‘progress.’  But it will live on in your books.”

Carson Letter ExcerptEdwin Way Teale thought a great deal of Rachel Carson, both personally and professionally, and in this modest collection of letters, we see several examples of his mentorship of her.  On November 3, 1950, she writes to tell him, after the fact, of her inclusion of his name as a reference for a Guggenheim Fellowship application, noting, “There was no time to ask you if it was all right, as I would always want to do in such a case.”  While such an action might seriously strain both a professional and personal relationship, it also makes clear the degree to which Carson knew she had Teale’s support.  Having been awarded the fellowship, she writes on April 2, 1951, “I’m most grateful for the boost you gave it [the application] and hope when you eventually see the book you will feel repaid.”  When she wins the John Burroughs medal for distinguished natural history writing in 1952, for the l951 publication of The Sea Around Us, she expresses concern that she will not be logistically able to attend the ceremony and asks Teale if he might accept the award on her behalf.  In a March 22, 1952 letter, she notes, “There’s no one I’d rather have represent me on that occasion.”  Ann Zwinger, who would later collaborate with Teale on his final, posthumously published book, A Conscious Stillness (1982), identifies the critical role that Teale played in Carson’s literary rise.  In her introduction to a 1989 special edition of The Sea Around Us, Zwinger characterizes Teale as “the quiet and quintessential nature writer” who “immediately recognized Carson’s greatness” (xxiv), freely offering his support to her by any means possible.

In addition to lending the weight of his name and literary stature to her endeavors, Teale lent the weight of his insights on the reading public and the kind of book to which they might be drawn.  In a November 3, 1950 letter, Carson writes, “Do you remember that several years ago you told me you wished I would write a seashore book that would tell you, not just what the animals were, but some whys and wherefores of their existence?  It seems I’m about to do something of the sort.”  This “seashore book” would later take the form of her 1955 The Edge of the Sea, illustrated by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service illustrator Bob Hines.  Realizing the strength of Teale’s influence and the depth of his kindness, she adds the following postscript to an August 18, 1953 letter in which she laments her struggle to finish The Edge of the Sea:  “I neglected to say that I think it would be fine if you will use your influence in Bob’s behalf, and I know he would appreciate it enormously.”  She adds, “Bob does not realize his own ability and I am hoping his work on this book will attract enough notice to build up his self confidence.”  After the publication of the first serialized section of the book in the summer of 1955, Teale writes to Carson on August 22, declaring that her writing in the book “is serene and fresh and strong with no residue of fatigue or stress in it—and that, in truth, is a very great accomplishment.”  In this exchange, and in many others in these letters, we readily see what Ann Zwinger characterizes as “the generosity typical of the natural history community” (xxiv).

As Rachel Carson embarked on the writing of Silent Spring, she once again turned to Teale both for encouragement and to tap his vast knowledge of the insect world and his connections to others with like knowledge.  In an August 15, 1955 letter to Teale, having just finished The Edge of the Sea, Carson writes, “Just now the thought of having to write makes me ill—so you know how deeply I feel for you, tied to an unfinished book!  Of course I’m ‘tied’ to one not even begun, but I’m resolutely not thinking about that!”  This seems a likely reference to Autumn Across America (1956) for Teale, and, though it is never directly corroborated in these letters, for Carson the book that she is “resolutely not thinking about” seems likely to be Silent Spring.  The fact that Carson does not further elaborate on her book “not even begun” suggests that Teale may already have been aware of its potential contents.  Given the inevitable minefield of public, corporate, and governmental response that such a book was certain to engender, it is impossible to fully comprehend the depth of Carson’s inevitable internal struggle to come to terms with writing and publishing it.

Nearly a year later, on December 30, 1956, Carson writes to Teale, excited about his upcoming visit to Washington, D.C., which she suspects is meant to overlap with the inauguration of Dwight D. Eisenhower.  She is living in nearby Silver Spring, Maryland at the time and notes, “I’ll be delighted to have a chance to talk over a couple of ideas that are whirling about in my mind.”  Here again this seems a likely reference to Silent Spring. Sixteen months later, on April 17, 1958, amidst a series of letters querying Teale’s recommendations for her purchase of 35mm camera equipment, Carson writes, “As perhaps you heard, I suddenly find myself writing about insecticides.  I hadn’t meant to, but it seems to me enormously important, and I decided far too many people (including myself only a few months ago!) knew what they should about it.”  Ironically, she adds, “So now I’m into it, but hope to do it quickly and rather briefly.”  With the hindsight of history, the understatement of these sentences is striking, but perhaps it aptly illustrates the impossibility of predicting the sea-change in environmental consciousness that the publication of Silent Spring would spur as well as the tempest of controversy that would spur that sea-change—a controversy that remains in full force in some circles today.

Despite the fact that Carson’s statements above suggest a project recently begun, a letter one month later suggests otherwise.  In a May 19, 1958 letter to Teale, she writes, “Besides the mountain of stuff I have here, I already have some 300 references on insecticides waiting for examination before I go to Maine.  I do have the prospect of some help, but even so it is an appalling job.  However, I am eager to have every scrap of information available, so I am grateful for all you have sent, or anything you may come across in the future.”  It seems unlikely, if not impossible, that Carson could have gathered this volume of material in the span of a few months, especially in a pre-Internet era.  Instead, one has the distinct impression that the groundwork for the writing of Silent Spring was laid deliberately over several years, despite Carson’s matter-of-fact tone on April 17th.  That tone, consciously or unconsciously, may represent an attempt to mitigate the ominousness of the task that would subsequently define her life for posterity.  In the correspondence that follows, we see Teale’s Teale DDT Article Image 1important role both in the development of Silent Spring and, more broadly, in the evolution of the twentieth-century environmental conservation movement.

From Carson’s perspective, Teale was the ideal resource: an expert entomologist, albeit not formally trained; a past president of both the New York and Brooklyn Entomological Societies, with extensive professional connections;  a supportive friend and colleague willing to lend his clout to her work; and a pioneer himself in terms of his vehement opposition to the indiscriminate use of DDT.  In the March 1945 issue of Nature Magazine, Teale had published a blistering, high-profile critique of indiscriminate DDT use, painting a dire picture of the potentially catastrophic results it would wreak on the natural world. Illustrating the article’s significance, the editors of the magazine dedicated a full page of commentary to it, beginning, “We commend for serious and mature consideration the leading article in this issue of the magazine.  It is, we believe, significant in thought and implication, even beyond the subject it discusses—the new insecticide, DDT” (145).  Teale’s article, in fact, foreshadows Silent Spring, both in message and tone.  This is especially evident in the following passage:

If the insects, the good, bad, and indifferent insects, were wiped out in a wide area, the effects would be felt for generations to come.  Songbirds, depending upon insects, or on seeds mainly produced by the pollinating activity of insects, would flee the area. A winter stillness would fall over the woods and fields.  There would be no katydids, no crickets, no churring grasshoppers or shrilling locusts, no bright-winged and vocal birds.  Trout and other gamefish, poisoned by the DDT or starving as the insects disappeared, would die in the lakes and mountain streams.  Wildflowers, in all the infinite variety of their forms and shades, would gradually disappear from the openings and the hillsides.  The landscape would become drab, clad in grays and greens and browns. […]. No drought, no flood, no hurricane could cause the widespread disaster that would follow in the train of the annihilation of the insects.

(162)

Although Teale’s article is not referenced in any of Carson’s correspondence preserved in the Teale Papers at the Dodd Center, it seems certain that she would have been aware of it.  A simple search of the Reader’s Guide to Periodical Literature for 1945 would have identified Teale’s article.  Since DDT had not been widely used as an insecticide until the latter half of World War II, the timeframe for Carson’s literature search of DDT’s pesticide use would have been necessarily narrow, further upping the likelihood that Teale’s article would have come to her attention.  Additionally, the material which he sent and for which she expresses gratitude on May 19, 1958 would almost certainly have come, at least in part, from the files he had compiled while preparing his own article.  In this way, the conspicuous absence of Teale’s article from the extensive references at the end of Silent Spring seems a little enigmatic, though it might be explained by the general absence of popular literature in her source material in favor of peer-reviewed academic literature.

In reviewing the Carson-Teale correspondence in the Teale Papers, it is too easy to get fixated on the DDT-related materials, given the titanic role of Silent Spring in the shaping of the modern environmental conservation movement.  To do so, however, ignores the larger importance of the correspondence—its capacity to illustrate by example the complex, private interactions that shape the lives of prominent writers in a given period.  The relationship between Carson and Teale, as it is illustrated in these letters, is rich and varied, informative and vital.  In their letters, for example, we see gentle humor when Carson, lamenting a book-signing appearance before the Maria Mitchell Association of Nantucket, quips in an August 12, 1952 letter, “What will you give me not to tell them that Edwin Way Teale is coming to Nantucket, too, and they can have a double tea and autographing??”  We see authentic sympathy for the physical and emotional rigors of the writing process when, as referenced above, Carson confides that, after completing The Edge of the Sea, “the thought of having to write makes me ill” (August 16, 1955), and Teale reassures her that “the strain and struggle and frustration that I know went into shaping the book” are not evident in the writing (August 22, 1955).  We see the profound need of each for seclusion in nature when Carson writes, “I now have about 350 feet of shoreline, with the house well protected on both sides […]. Such wonderful ferns, mosses, lichens, glades full of bunchberry and Clintonia, wood lilies, Indian pipes, ladies slippers—real Maine woods” (August 16, 1955), and when she writes on June 9, 1959 to congratulate the Teales on their purchase of Trail Wood, noting her certainty that “you and Nellie will have the time of your lives in such a place.”  Finally, we see the deepest intimacy of friendship when, in a December 10, 1960 letter, Carson confides that she has undergone a “radical mastectomy” to treat the cancer that will later kill her.  Ultimately, these letters illustrate an abiding friendship underpinned by a deep commonality of view, of purpose, of artistic impulse, and—perhaps most importantly—of a far-reaching vision of nature, both in its wondrousness and its terrible fragility.

Richard Telford teaches literature and composition at Woodstock Academy in Connecticut.  He has a BA in English from the University of New Hampshire, an MS in English Education from the University of Bridgeport, and an MS in Environmental Studies from Green Mountain College. Working with the Connecticut Audubon Society, he helped design and found the Edwin Way Teale Artists in Residence at Trail Wood program, which he directs.  He was recently awarded a Rose and Sigmund Strochlitz Travel Grant by the University of Connecticut to support his ongoing research on naturalist writer and photographer Edwin Way Teale.  

 

References

“Carson, Rachel, 1949-1966.” Correspondence.  Box 150, Folder 3040.  Edwin Way Teale Papers, Archives & Special Collections at the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center, University of Connecticut Libraries.

Teale, Edwin Way. “DDT: The Insect-killer that can be Either Boon or Menace.” Nature  Magazine, March 1945, 121-4, 162.

Zwinger, Ann H.  Introduction.  The Sea Around Us. By Rachel Carson. 1950. Oxford: Oxford   University Press, 1989. xix-xxvii.  Print.