Day one of my cottage vacation has me delving into the books from first light in the bedroom window, with James Alan McPherson “Elbow Room”. This is a Pullitzer prize-winning short story book from a black American author who died earlier this week. Ted deems it “prize-deserving and thoroughly enjoyable”. Its city settings totally out of context with life in Muskoka.
After swim, breakfast, run, breakfast, swim, I reclined in zero gravity (??) next to a maple sapling and checked out the maples in Donald Culross Peattie “A Natural History of North American Trees”. This writer, who died in 1964, has the perfect educational background for me: French Poetry at University of Chicago and botany at Harvard before working for the Department of Agriculture”. [See inside jacket photo]
The language usage is outstanding. Noted: rachitic, elegiac, dietetic, mayfly, wraithlike, sesquipedalian. Searching for the Latin expression used by Peattie, “Horribile dictu” I came across the Merriam-Webster Unabridged dictionary, available for a 14 day trial – SOLD! Will be looking to expand my knowledge of words over this vacation.
Here’s a two paragraph quotation from Peattie which I cite, not particularly for the language, but for the subtle yet precise way that the author expresses an opinion on the landscaping uses of the Silver Maple Tree:
“A tree with so many charms has naturally been planted far beyond its natural range, and everywhere within it. In the South, where it is rare as a native tree, it is common as a street tree. In the West, even in southern California where deciduous trees usually find little favor, it is a favorite, for it cannot grow without lending grace to any spot; it makes a railroad station look like a home, and adds a century to the appearance of a village street. It is the fastest growing of all our Maples, one of the fastest among all trees suitable to our climate, be they native or exotic. It is as charming in its childhood as in age, and in its youth goes through no awkward stage.
Yet landscape architects have little good to say of it. They complain of the insect pests that attack it, and of its comparatively short life, as well as the breakage of its brittle and too-long boughs under wind and ice damage. They urge that it be planted, if at all, in the full knowledge that it’s quickly achieved effects will not last long, and that more permanent if slower plantings be started at the same time. It may be that we should always listen to cautious and sensible people and not allow ourselves to think too highly of a tree that will perhaps only live three times as long as we do.”
Natural history and language brought together, like Annie Dillard also capably accomplishes in “Pilgrim at Tinker Creek”. A treat to consider Culross Peattie’s writing and learn natural history, American history and language, all together.