Education Blog

An Impressive Assortment of Long Island Nature Writers

I like to read: fiction and non-fiction, classics and contemporary, sports and history, science and nature. It logically follows that a bookstore is a temptation I can rarely pass up. The pile of “yet to be read” books on my nightstand is a clear indication of how these bookstore visits regularly conclude.

While looking through my basement library recently, I stumbled upon an interesting observation. Long Island has been “home base” for an impressive assortment of past and present nature writers. I know I cannot do justice to this subject in a short blog article. Please consider this sampling to be a mere introduction to the environmental authors of Long Island.

DSCN0005Some local writers have concentrated on Long Island’s natural world. Dennis Puleston’s A Nature Journal (1992), written and beautifully illustrated by the author, immediately comes to mind. As stated in his Preface:

“Long Island is so much more than shopping malls, concrete highways, and crowded towns and beaches. There are still cool woodlands, quiet rivers, salt marshes, overgrown meadows, and rolling sand dunes to be enjoyed by those who have eyes to seek and the desire to learn about the other Long Island, the one that existed long before the first settlers broke ground.”

Born in England in 1905, Dennis Puleston settled on Long Island by the 1940s and – until his passing in 2001 — spent the rest of his life residing near the Carman’s River. A Nature Journal is a wonderful chronicle of the author’s astute observations and vast knowledge about Long Island’s natural world.

Other local writers have written about the environment on a continental or global scale. Even so, Long Island is often woven into the pages. Among environmental authors, Edwin Way Teale is a personal favorite. He was born elsewhere (Illinois) and spent his last two decades (until 1980) in Connecticut. But for nearly thirty years of his adult life, Baldwin (in Nassau County) was Teale’s home. Edwin Way Teale was a prolific writer, penning more than two-dozen books about nature. I have enjoyed reading many of his books, but none more than his four-part series on exploring North America’s natural history through the four seasons: North with the Spring (1951), Autumn Across America (1956), Journey Into Summer (1960), and Wandering Through Winter (1965). My hardcover copies mark, in red, the extensive continental routes that he took each season. Long Island is touched on each map:

“One winter day, while riding… among the low dunes on the south shore of Long Island, I saw [a snowy owl] lift into the air beside the road. For two and a half miles it flew just ahead of the car. We watched the speedometer. Considering the headwind it was meeting, we calculated it was cruising along in easy flight with an air speed of more than fifty miles an hour.”

Peter Matthiessen is another local nature writer whose attentions have spanned the globe, but also have focused on the near-at-hand. In his classic Wildlife In America (1959; revised and updated 1987), Matthiessen observes:

“On the east end of Long Island, where I live, osprey are common, but they were so scarce by the 1960s that I pointed out each one that passed over to my children, for fear that it might be the last.”

One of my favorite Matthiessen products is The Wind Birds (1967), about shorebirds in North America. Eastern Long Island takes center stage at many points in the book:

“The Pond at Sagaponack, where I live, has its source in the small woodland stream which drains Poxabogue Pond…[S]easonally, in storm or flood, [Sagg] Pond is open to the sea. Then this lower reach is salt, a place of tidal creek and shallow flat which is today, as it has always been, a haunt of shorebirds”.

Lifelong Long Islander, Carl Safina, has written several superb books about the plight of the world’s oceans and their inhabitants. His writings, including Song For the Blue Ocean (1997) and Eye of the Albatross (2003), are thoughtful and thought-provoking. His most recent book, The View From Lazy Point (2011), offers a nice balance between natural Long Island and the global environment:

“The coast and its migrants bring to Lazy Point a much bigger picture than any map of the place suggests. I sometimes tell friends it’s possible to see the whole world in the view from Lazy Point”.

Dennis Puleston, Edwin Way Teale, Peter Matthiessen, Carl Safina: A notable introduction to the subject of Long Island nature writers. With more space, I would have to include Robert Cushman Murphy, Ann Johnson, Paul Connor, John Turner, Judith Weis, Mike Bottini… Perhaps the topic can be continued in a second article? In any event, I certainly don’t wish to contribute to the never-ending expansion of the holiday shopping season. But I will say this: A book from one of Long Island’s nature writers would make a nice gift!