Porcupine - "Complaining whines"




On a map, a campsite is represented by a triangle. The mountains are black squiggles, and the rivers are blue squiggles. The most important part of reading a map is consistently keeping an eye on it. You can't get lost, look at a map, and magically know exactly where you are. The squiggles, like many helpful tools, depend on context.

Field guides are a sort of map - although they are ostensibly less broad, and by definition less figurative. When someone is trying to differentiate between the Indigo Bunting and the Lazuli Bunting, squiggles  aren't sufficiently useful. The level of detail needed in these images gives us bookshelves-worth of Peterson guides. 

 Ellsworth Jaeger's Wildwood Wisdom is a field guide in the broadest sense, falling somewhere between the two camps - a field guide drawn in squiggly lines.



These beautiful page spreads speak for themselves. It's the peculiar illustration details that really stand out. Never content simply to draw an edible plant, Jaeger (or his unnamed illustrator) fills each plate to bursting with tiny elf-like buckskin-clad figures and anthropomorphic animals. My favorite section is "Woods in Winter."

"The snows of the winter woods and fields often reveal the comedies and tragedies in the daily lives of the woodfolk. Their life histories from day to day are faithfully inscribed in this vast blank page of the wildwood diary" (470)
The writing is imaginative and vivid: "If you should see a trail that looks as if some tiny person has been walking on his hands, you will know that the dwarf was that queer animal, the opossum" (359).

Jaeger compiled the guide in 1945, "[w]ritten in the maelstrom of this war of wars, when fear, dishonor, horror, treachery and death convulse the earth from end to end, the serenity and peace of the wilderness solitudes were never more dear to the hearts of men" (5). The prose returns often to themes of silence and stillness. This makes sense in the context of Jaeger's main interests as an outdoorsman - tracking, woodcraft and Native American history. Working as a faculty member at the Buffalo Museum of Science, he spent many summers teaching woodcraft and wandering the trails of America. This text is lovingly dedicated to Zetta, his life partner and "Companion of the Trails."  

unofficial illustration by David Lee


Illustration here is by our uncle David Lee, original owner of our edition and an avid woodsman and talented woodworker in his own right. This image is his signature - perhaps a self-portrait. We'll post some information on his beautiful traditionally crafted bows and arrows soon - pending proper photo documentation. Many of our most engaging childhood rambles were during his visits - nature walks under the guise of bow hunting - I recall him placing a smoldering cigar in the entrance of a rabbit warren to "smoke them out." We never caught anything.


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Notes

Ellsworth Jaeger, Wildwood Wisdom, (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1945).