Cheryl Kimball's Nature Talks: Old books sparked lifelong interest in the natural world

By CHERYL KIMBALL June 23. 2018 2:29AM

Nine-year-old Finn McDonald got so excited when he spotted this heron that he asked his dad for his camera to take a picture. What an incredible picture he got! Nature Talks author Cheryl Kimball believes these are the moments that trigger lifelong observers of nature. (Courtesy)

Clutter, or should I say de-clutter, has been my latest obsession. Two months of upper respiratory issues has led me to seeing every surface as a dust/pollen-holder. Another month of feeling like this and I am going to become a self-imposed old-lady-in-a-bubble.

Of course clearing the clutter, stirring up dust and pollen and mouse scat and probably some mold is not the recipe for ridding oneself of upper respiratory issues, but the end result would mean a house that is easier to keep dust/pollen/mold-free. Some things are easy to release to the free world — does someone who has no valuable jewelry really need three boxes to hold it in? What about that miniature cedar chest whose key is lost and the lock was left in the closed position permanently propping the lid open? Or the unopened package of craft supplies from the time years past when I thought I would try my hand at scrapbooking?

The main source of the “clutter” is books. This seems like it should be easy. And at first it is. Travel books — toss. With any travel planning we have done in recent years done mostly via the internet, these books are all a minimum of a decade old. Many of the businesses in them are likely no longer open, the street names may have changed, heck some of the countries themselves no longer exist. Other collections of books on subjects that are no longer obsessions — yoga, scrapbooking — are easy to put in the donate box.

But then, on one bottom shelf, I pull out a boxed set from the Natural Science Library of the National Geographic Society, “Wild Animals of North America” and “The Marvels of Animal Behavior” (Copyright 1960). This set immediately transported me back to my childhood where it graced the bookshelf my father built for me in the knee wall of my bedroom out of paneling left over from the dining room renovation. This book set kept me rapt for hours at a time, time and time again.

The dust jacket covers are replicated on the front of the box that holds the two hardcover books. One side shows two grizzly cubs frolicking beside mom who is just stepping out of a body of water with a salmon dangling from her jaws. On the other side, two large lizards stand on their hind legs, belly to belly, front legs locked behind each other’s backs. It looks like a romantic embrace — one lizard has its head up and what could be mistaken for a warm contented smile like the pair had just been reunited after a long absence. The jacket blurb tells a different story — they are in fact two male lizards in a territorial stand-off.

These books are in perfect shape — no wrinkles in the dust jackets, no folded pages, no water stains. But I know for a fact that they have been pored over and pored over, their contents devoured. Their covers are as familiar to me as family.

While the “Wild Animals” book was certainly interesting and well-read, “The Marvels of Animal Behavior” book was my addiction. I was never bored with this book within my reach. What came first, my interest in animal behavior that made me fascinated by this book or this book helping lead to an interest in animal behavior, I will never know. But what I do know is that for my entire life — several decades now past the time I first got this book set — I have found other animals, wild or domestic, and what they do and why they might do it of great interest.

Why did the wild pigeon befriend me? Does the doe who has lived in a grove of pines beyond the horse paddock really bring her fawn out to show off to me as it seems? Does our one remaining duck really believe there is another duck staring back at him from the hubcap of our truck? Why on earth do the chimney swifts fly back from as far away as Peru to our very chimney year after year after year? Some of these questions will never be answered — not by me or for me by someone else — which makes it all the more fascinating.

I follow Sean McDonald of WMUR on Facebook. This morning he posted two pictures of a great blue heron. He said his young son had been captivated by the herons and took these pictures, which were simply gorgeous, both the birds and the composition. And this is where it starts — a bird and a camera handed to a young person by an encouraging parent or a book set within easy access sitting on the shelf built to hold it by a caring father — leading to a lifetime of interest in the natural world.

Cheryl Kimball is a freelance writer who lives north of Rochester. Email her at

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