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THROUGH THE WOODS: A man looks out at his world



Columbia County naturalist Alan Devoe. Original photo courtesy of Nancy Kern

SCANNING THE SHELVES for something to read produced the 1942 “The Lives Around Us” by naturalist Alan Devoe. In the prologue to the book, he finds himself depressed and discouraged by the horrors and fears of World War II. “I think that in this evil and fantastic day, bewildered as we look at the havoc man has made of man’s particular world, we may come to know a certain peace, and to take firm hold upon a certain changeless rock, by quitting now and then the contemplation of the merely human scene….”

He lived at Phudd Hill near Harlemville and wrote about the life around him of frogs and deer and birds and gave the purpose of his book: “There is something in them that has given the writer a lasting pleasure, deep and not without serenity. He hopes they bring a little of this to others.”

I was seven years old when he died in 1952 and regret not having met this famous neighbor. We shared a love of nature and the peace and distraction it provides. Devoe read newspapers and listened to the radio. At this time of life, I watch the TV and use the internet. Unfortunately, not much has changed about man in this world of ours. Watching the current atrocities in the news sends me out to nature for some comfort.

Today I concluded my Cornell FeederWatch weekend out on my porch. There was a little sunshine this afternoon and the wildlife descendants of Alan Devoe were at my place. The pet chipmunk was on the porch before I fully opened the front door in expectation of food. The door was quickly closed to protect it from my cat who cries to get at it. The chipmunk hoovered up the cracked corn and with bulging cheeks, ran for the winter food storage chambers in its hole.

A wild hen turkey came through looking for corn and had a feast. Most of the usual songbirds of summer have gone south, but there was a Carolina wren, a pair of bluebirds, some robins, and the noisy blue jays protested my presence with the assistance of a raven and several crows.

Winter birds are arriving and include the juncos, a red-breasted nuthatch, and the surprise of a pine siskin in the company of a few goldfinches. I am still wary of the bears grabbing my bird feeders so expect to get more birds as we get into the winter months. My mind is cleared and calm tonight, and the elements of nature still remain as a rock of support and comfort.

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