Who was the first nature writer you idolized?

The thread about E.O. Wilson inspired this question. A lot of us can think of one nature writer in particular who really drew us into being naturalists, and perhaps even became our childhood hero or heroine, if we discovered them at a young age.

Mine was Euell Gibbons. I discovered his trilogy, Stalking the Wild Asparagus, Stalking the Blue-Eyed Scallop, and Stalking the Healthful Herbs when I was young and impressionable. So, from an early age, my relationship to nature was in terms of foraging – which of course meant learning which ones were safe to forage and eat, and which were not, and also where to find them.

Gibbons was my boyhood idol. It was only much later on that I found out he had died before I learned to read. So in a real sense, he was speaking to me from beyond the grave.

That’s the wonderful thing about truly great naturalists – their legacies outlive them.

So who was the first nature writer or other naturalist you idolized? Did you idolize them during their life, or only after their death?

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Darwin. I thought his writing style terrible, but his observations are so keen and clear.

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Well, if we’re talking about books meant for the general public and not textbooks…
E. O. Wilson didn’t get me into nature (no book got me into nature, my Dad did) but I love Wilson’s books. I’m not sure I’d say I idolised him but I admire him and his writing a lot. I also enjoy books by Jared Diamond, Tim Flannery and Tim Low.

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I think my favourite book of Darwin’s is The Voyage of the Beagle. I’ve read his others of course but I found the style of writing in TVotB different to the others in a way that a cannot put my finger on.

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Gerald Durrell , James Herriot, Panchatantra Tales

Later E.O Wilson, John Terborgh, Desmond Morris

And of course always being in places and being encouraged to be outdoors by my parents, school , and friends.

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The more I learn about Henry Augustus Pilsbry the more I am astonished by his work. From 1939–1948 he (re)described every terrestrial gastropod in North America, including detailed dissections of reproductive anatomy—even on species just a few mm long. Pilsbry published over 2000 pages on these 1200 species in under a decade, filling four volumes. This is still the basis for much of our work today, and many groups have not been looked at since his efforts. He published on many other regions as well, and described over 5600 organisms.

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Idolized might be too strong a word, but the first who really spoke to me was Loren Eiseley.

Followed closely by Mary Austin, Edward Abbey, Barry Lopez, and Gary Snyder.

40+ years on I still re-read their works, if only to appreciate the beautiful ways they painted with their words.

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I do not have a true idol now, but as a child i was probably idolizing Chris Lukhaup, because he had written a book about keeping crayfish that fascinated me, and i was reading his articles in aquaristics journals.

I really loved Frederik Sjöbergs book " The Fly Trap" (i was reading the german translation “Die Fliegenfalle”). It’s a great book about the fascination of entomology. It’s more focused on the entomologists than insects.

Rachel Carson
Silent Spring (and no birds sing)
She died of breast cancer.
I sometimes wonder if we have learnt anything about living with, instead of against, nature in all my sixty something years.

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I don’t think we have learnt anything :-(

only every generation or so we get to know of people like Rachel Carson,

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Aldo Leopold. My 4th grade class all read A Sand County Almanac.

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Edwin Way Teale

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You made me think not exactly of a nature writer but of a nature adventurer I idolized. When I was a kid in the 1950s there was a wonderful “All About” series of books about science. They were typically stories of discovery, with simple line drawings, on about a 4th grade level I think. One, which may have been “All About Dinosaurs,” told about Roy Chapman Andrews of the American Museum discovering dinosaur eggs in Mongolia. (Let’s not think about the politics involved in that; I certainly didn’t at the time.) Andrews himself did popular writing but I never read any of it. But that book was certainly influential in my interest in nature and museums.

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I finally read Silent Spring just a few years ago. What a remarkable book! Arguing from just a knowledge of chemistry, and the example of a few lamentable “natural experiments,” she launched an entire branch of science as well as a philosophical movement. Really Darwinesque in its scope.

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Jean-Henry Fabre (1823-1915), when I was a child. That’s one of the reasons why I got involved with insects, probably… A bit out of fashion by now but, if you know some French, Souvenirs Entomologiques are still a pleasant read.

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I don’t idolize them, but I love Thoreau, Emerson, Frost, Thomas (“Fern Hill” gets me every time), and most of the Romantics (Coleridge, Keats, Wordsworth, even Irving for his descriptions of the Hudson River and Catskills) who wrote about nature. They understood the effect of landscape on the human mind, both the beauty and the terror. I find great solace in the Transcendentalists during the pandemic because they turn away from the world of humankind and back to the natural world for comfort.

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Well, this sent me down a 30-minute rabbithole, unsuccessfully searching for the 1950’s author of young adult novels about wild animals, named Kierkgard (or something similar - but not spelled Kierkegaard.)

Henry David Thoreau was the first author to express something of how I felt about being in the natural world. I admired his efforts to bridge the gap between living in community and being in nature. And Aldo Leopold’s “A Sand County Almanac” was a revelation - expanded how I thought about land, and people.

Rachel Carson, though, is my hero. Her courage in writing and publishing “Silent Spring,” while ill with breast cancer, blows me away.

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H. G. Stuckmann

Bernd Heinrich and David Sibley

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Dude, my Natural History teacher read us A Sand County Almanac if we went outside to look for stuff and came back early. It is a great book.

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