Letters From Eden: A Year at Home, in the Woods

Letters From Eden: A Year at Home, in the Woods



Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780618573080
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date: 10/04/2006
Pages: 240
Product dimensions: (w) x (h) x 0.92(d)

About the Author

Writer/artist JULIE ZICKEFOOSE is fascinated by the interface of birds and people. She is the author of Natural Gardening for Birds; Letters from Eden: A Year at Home, in the Woods; The Bluebird Effect: Uncommon Bonds With Common Birds; and Baby Birds: An Artist Looks Into the Nest. She is the only person ever to specialize in painting the day-to-day development of nestling birds. Studying blue jays, a familiar yet deeply mysterious species, has opened a new world to her. She lives and documents the lives of birds, bobcats, coyotes, deer, and other wildlife on an 80-acre sanctuary in southeast Ohio. 

Researching films, articles, and 22 books, SY MONTGOMERY has hiked the Altai Mountains of Mongolia looking for snow leopards, tracked tree kangaroos in Papua New Guinea, and more. A National Book Award finalist, she has also been honored with a Sibert Medal, two Science Book and Film prizes from the National Association for the Advancement of Science, three honorary degrees, and many other awards. She lives in Hancock, New Hampshire. Visit her online at symontgomery.com and on Twitter @SyTheAuthor.

Read an Excerpt

Catching Paul

I was picking over the green beans when I saw it—a flutter of wings against the banks of fluorescent lights in the grocery store ceiling overhead. My heart sank, as it always does, to see a bird in a grocery store. I muttered a wish that it would be a house sparrow, but my bird watcher’s eye had already decided it wasn’t. I followed it through to the store’s bakery counter, where I eventually located it, perched calmly in a revolving rack of birthday candles. I smiled when my eye fell upon it. In the little wire candle tree it had found the only remotely shrublike structure in the entire store and was quite well hidden amid the Barney and Blue’s Clues birthday decorations. I could see just a part of its breast—white, heavily streaked with brown. Song sparrow, I decided, just as it took off over the beverage aisle, headed back to produce.
Now, a sparrow, even a song sparrow, can live a mighty long time in a grocery store. Years, I’d guess, if the management doesn’t decide to do it in as a health hazard. It’s got everything it needs, except, of course, freedom, a decent habitat, a mate, and other sparrows to hang out with. It can nibble the fresh kale and lettuce, peck the apples and grapes, scrounge for spilled seed in the pet and wild-bird sections. It can drink and even bathe in the automatic mist hissing down on the salad greens. It can hide in the candle rack or the houseplants, perch in the high light fixtures at the slightest hint of threat. Make no mistake, it’s probably pretty unhappy, but it survives. The chances of its finding its way out through the double front doors or the heavy swinging loading dock doors are about nil. This store backs up onto a marsh preserve, and I guessed the sparrow had entered via the darkened loading dock and flown toward the lighted store proper when the swinging doors opened. I wanted to get it out of there.
I began asking around in the bakery section, where the ladies were quite forthcoming. “He’s been in here about a week,” one told me. “He’s just as tame as can be. He’ll let you come up and talk to him as close as you are to me, but you’d better not have a bass net in your hand!” She motioned to a large aluminum-handled fishing net leaning against the pastry counter. “He knows when you’re after him, and he doesn’t want anything to do with you if you’ve got that net in your hand.” I could sense the respect in her voice, respect for a tiny brown bird. “I named him Paul,” she added a little sheepishly. Paul. It was the perfect name for this modest sparrow, and it told me volumes about how she felt about him.
I came back the next day with a sparrow trap, one designed to rid the premises of house sparrows. Baited with seed or bread, it’s a simple wire box with a spring-loaded lid. When the bird jumps down onto a treadle, the lid slams shut and the sparrow is yours. I set it, mounded seed enticingly inside, and put it atop a doughnut case next to the birthday candle rack. I left my number with the bakery ladies and the store manager. A week later, I still hadn’t gotten a call, so I returned. The trap was still open, unsprung. Paul had cleaned up all the stray seed around the outside but hadn’t so much as stuck a toe inside the trap. This was going to be harder than I thought.
The store manager expressed his frustration. “Used to be when we’d get a bird in here I’d just turn out all the store lights in the morning before anybody got here and open the loading dock doors, and out it would go, heading for the light. I got rid of any number of birds that way. But since they remodeled, a computer controls all the lights and I can’t override it. I can’t even turn out the lights in my own store!” I pondered the implications of this statement. The situation seemed to me to be akin to a car whose windows couldn’t be rolled down. This sounded like a plan that made sense at corporate headquarters, but not in the field. I assured the manager I’d try my best to catch the sparrow some other way.
I took the trap home and rigged up two red plastic jar lids. One I taped to the top of the trap and partially filled with seed. The other I taped just inside the trap chamber so it could be reached with a short hop down into the chamber. This would accustom Paul to entering the chamber, even if he only had to hop an inch inside it. Finally, I wired the trap open so it could not spring shut. I wanted the trap to become Paul’s happy place, his kitchen. I left it there for five days.
When I came back to check the trap, Paul had been in the store for over a month. The bakery ladies were ready for me, their eyes shining. “I’m not so sure you’ll ever catch him,” one woman said. “He sits on the trap all day, but he doesn’t ggo inside it.” “We’ll see about that,” I answered. I climbed up and retrieved the trap from the top of the doughnut case. Both fooddddd dishes were completely empty. Seed hulls were littered all around the cage. Paul had definitely been inside the trap chamber and he would go in again. And when he did, he’d be mine.
This time, I taped a jar lid directly to the treadle inside the trap chamber and filled it with millet, sunflower, cracked corn, and peanut butter suet dough. It was irresistible fare for a hungry sparrow. In the lid atop the trap I put a meager single serving of the same food. Cackling, I climbed back up and replaced Paul’s kitchen.
“You know, that crazy bird will light on the trays of hot rolls just out of the big oven,” a baker told me. “I’ll try to shoo him off, but he comes right back. And he goes way back into the deli. I don’t know what he’s after, but he’s not scared of anything and he knows his way around here pretty good.” There was obvious affection in her voice. She lowered it conspiratorially. “I just feel sorry for him, though, and I’m afraid one of these guys is going to try to get him one day.” I grasped her meaning immediately. It can’t be within the health code to have a sparrow hopping around on the bakery trays.
I reassured her. “I predict that Paul will be in that trap by tomorrow morning.” It was noon when I left the store.
I was finishing up the dinner dishes at 6:20 P.M. when the phone rang. It was the store’s manager, and he was clearly excited. “Is this Julie, with the bird trap?” he asked.
“Yes, it is!” I answered.
“Well, we have a bird in the trap!” I whooped with joy. “I told you! I told you I’d get him! That’s fantastic! Hang on to him while I call my husband! He’ll be by in a couple of minutes to pick him up.” I hung up and did a dance of joy around the kitchen. Phoebe and Liam danced, too, hollering and whooping. “WE GOT HIM! WE GOT HIM! WE GREEN AND YELLOW GOT HIM!” we sang.
We turned on the porch light and waited breathlessly for Bill. He came in, leading with the trap, a frantic Paul ricocheting around inside. I clutched the trap and peered inside. Paul gave a small peep of fear, and there was something familiar about his voice. His brow was faintly yellow, his streaking too fine, his belly too white . . . he was altogether too small . . . This is no song sparrow, I realized. “Hey!
This is a Savannah sparrow!” I exclaimed, agog. What were the odds? An uncommon migrant through the Mid–Ohio Valley at best, a Savannah sparrow would be one of the last birds I’d expect to see perched atop a birthday candle rack or a tray of hot buns.
“I’ll be darned,” Bill said. “I didn’t get a chance to look at him in the excitement, but he didn’t look much like a song sparrow to me when I picked him up.” Carefully, I reached into the trap and brought Paul out into the light. So tiny, so sleek, so . . . fat. His high-carb diet had clearly agreed with him. Paul was padded. I took a bad snapshot of him clutched in one hand, then released him to the comparative comfort of a pet carrier, its floor covered with straw and natural perches. He settled down quickly and enjoyed his first dark night in more than a month. His temporary home had been a twenty-four- hour establishment; the lights never went out. I imagined all Paul had been through and what he must have been thinking. Was he thankful for the darkness? Glad for the feel of straw and wood beneath his feet? Happy for the quiet, away from humming refrigerator cases and floor buffers and the incessant beep of scanners? Aware that he was one heck of a lucky bird? Wondering what would become of him in the morning?
At 8:00 A.M., we donned coats and shoes and solemnly trooped out the front door with Paul’s carrier. Liam said, “I want to see that bird fly!” Phoebe made sure she would be the one to open the carrier door. Paul hesitated, then shot out like a streaky brown arrow to the top of a birch tree, its leaves golden and drooping in a warm November drizzle. He looked down, up, all around. A few goldfinches settled in beside him. For twenty minutes Paul perched, his feet fumbling on the twigs, feet that were now more used to the feel of plastic and metal. He watched the juncos and goldfinches, the song sparrows and cardinals. He watched me scattering millet beneath his tree, talking softly to him. Then Paul wiped his bill, gave a soft tweet, and was gone, flying straight and true out over the meadow, headed south.

Copyright © 2006 by Julie Zickefoose. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company.

Table of Contents

Foreword x Preface xiv

Winter January Thaw 3 Adaptation 8 Grosbeaks: A Remembrance 14 A Winter’s Tale 21 Calling Kali 26 The Cursed Tangle 32 The Generous Robin 37

Spring Off-seasons 45 Phoebe Magic 51 Mowing the Meadow 57 Six Gifts of April 63 The Planting Bird 68 A Bad Day for Starlings 76 Atoning to Box Turtles 85 Baffling Phoebes 97 Dancing with Tree Swallows 102 Big Nature 108

Summer Paradise Lost 119 Once Bitten 131 Stopping to Help 136 Summer Pleasures 144 Going on Vacation 150 Wren Wranch 156

Fall Chicken Fever 165 The Turning of the Year 171 The Vultures Knew 178 Letting It Go 185 Avian Intelligence 192 Birding with Bambinos 200 The Healing Walk 206 Catching Paul 212

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

Zickefoose finds [a connection with nature] often and documents it in words and paintings in her beautiful new book.
Cleveland Plain Dealer

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Letters From Eden: A Year at Home, in the Woods 4.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 11 reviews.
theancientreader on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a wonderful collection of 33 essays by author Michael C. Hurley which covers several years of wilderness canoe journeys. Least the reader be misled, it should be noted that these are not your typical canoe adventure stories, filled with danger, excitement, hardship, et al that we seem to have a plethora of these days. The high adventure type of books is fine; goodness knows I read enough of them and have enjoyed most that I have read. Every so often though (not often enough I¿m feeling), we need a work that combines the privilege we have of being able to venture out into still relatively untamed areas, with what most of us do it for; that being peace.The author has actually given us a collection of essays on life, as he sees and has experienced it along with his reflections and lessons learned. This is a mellow book; a book where a writer, an author, a rather average sort of fellow has chosen to share his feeling and opinions over a wide range of subjects with us, the reader. His writing style is pleasing and intimate and it is obvious that the writer of this work is quite familiar with the pen. It is a pure and simple joy to read his words.Mr. Hurley is obviously a man of faith, of strong faith who is quite dedicated to his family and his passion which is canoeing. All of the essays here are based and pinned on various canoe trips he has taken, either alone, with friend, or best of all, with family. Some of the author¿s observations are quite serious, others general in nature and many quite light hearted. I love the ending of one of his essays which addresses his relationship to the cell phone. I could identify with this perfectly.Of course a big draw for me as to the work is the passion the author shows for the natural world around him. Some of his observations are absolutely delightful, while others rather disturbing yet thought provoking. Most of these deal with what mankind is doing to his natural environment and the price we are paying and will ultimately pay. Now I am an avowed ¿tree hugger,¿ something that many of our politicians, talk show bellowers and religious freaks have somehow turned into a horrid thing to be, but that is okay. It is nice to know that we have voices of reason out there, this author being one of them.For a relaxing and well written work, one that is nice to have handy to read off and on and now and again, this is a wonderful choice. I do recommend this one highly.
dianaleez on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The drawings are worth the price of admission. The relaxing, informative essays a delight!
readingraven on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
It will be difficult to adequately explain just how much I enjoyed this book. The artwork is amazing. Julie shares her sketches and field notes but also her finished paintings. Her writing is wonderful. She is able to manage a polished essay with a message that still feels as if you are getting a glimpse into her heart and soul. I have read Julie's blog for about 9 months now and even so I'm impressed with her writing ability. But more than anything, I'm impressed with the content. I can give no finer tribute to her writing and her message except to say that upon finishing her book in a marathon reading session in front of a warm fire on a cold, windy day with no power in the house, I got up cleaned my kitchen and made suet dough for the birds, cleaned the hummer feeders and refilled them, cleaned the tube feeder and refilled it. Julie is one of those people who urges us by her own example to strive for a little better in our own lives. Not a Martha Stewart intimidating kind of perfection but an "Oh, wouldn't it be nice to live in her world" kind of inspiration. A glorious read and one I know I'll come back to again and again. Thank you, Julie Zickefoose!
Woodsy4527 More than 1 year ago
Julie is my favorite contributor to Bird Watcher's Digest. She is an naturalist, illustrater and artist who magically uses her training and skills to give her followers the best of our fauna and flora. The book is full of wonderful things that have mostly happened on her family farm in Ohio. Many stories inclde Phoebe and Liam her two children. For the most part the main characters are her and all the animals that seemed to have blessed her life. Julie is a kind, caring indivdual, of which our world needs more like her.
glauver More than 1 year ago
I bought this for my mother at Christmas a couple years ago and just read it myself. Ms. Zickefoose is a fine writer and illustrator who draws you into her and her family's adventures in the natural world. She makes the commonplace interesting. If you have read classic nature writers like Edwin Way Teale, Hal Borland, or Roger Tory Peterson, Julie Zickefoose will not disappoint you.
R-Ellen More than 1 year ago
I bought this book for myself and as a gift for a friend. As I am a bird watcher and a nature lover, I thoroughly enjoyed reading about this author's experiences. My friend devoured the book in a short time and soon thereafter her husband was also engaged in reading it. It is a book that I wouldn't mind reading again sometime in the future. As a fellow artist I appreciated her wildlife sketches and paintings.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
kdbpanda More than 1 year ago
I'm am enjoying this book so much. I've had to force myself to put it down after a chapter so I can stretch it out. I love all the stories and the attention to detail that Julie puts into every story.
Guest More than 1 year ago
'Letters From Eden' is outstanding ! Wonderfully crafted with beautiful illustrations and fine writing, each essay can be savored like fine chocolate. 'Letters From Eden' would be a wonderful gift for anyone who enjoys nature and wild birds, it is a lovely book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have just finished reading this wonderful book. I have to say that this book will go on my night table with my small volumes of Frost poems and other personal favorites. Julie Zickefoose is a very talented artist, writer, naturalist and NPR commentator for All Thing Considered. In her many NPR pieces, Zickefoose, who lives with her editor and naturalist husband, William Thompson III and their two children on an 80 acre parcel of woods in Southern Ohio, decribes her day, whether that be canning for 12 hours to produce only a few jars of tomatos or about her beloved pet, a Boston Terrier named Chet Baker. In this book, she has told stories of her beloved home in the woods and illustrated it with beautiful drawings and watercolors. As an artist, I of course was instantly attracted to Ms. Zickefoose's artwork, and I came away from the book with a confirmation of her technique and talent. What I wasn't prepared for was the beauty of her drawings. They made the book for me, and might I say, that for me, pencil drawings are not always captured well, from my experience of many years in publishing. I'd have to say that Houghton-Mifflin's printer did an excellent job on then. I examined them with my loop and they are excellently captured. Along with my appreciation for her artwork comes my love of the printed word and of journaling in particular. It made the whole package for me. Zickefoose's care of and for animals is evident in the possum story (which broke my heart) her caring for a turtle with an ear infection and a stump of a foot...She's unafraid to take on challenge. Other parts of the book made me laugh my head off, especially the Vultures Knew story. Hilarious!!! I learned about Julie Zickefoose on The Naturalist's Datebook on Marthat Stewart Living Radio. Ms, Roach, an author & naturalist made the comment that she would be giving this book to half her list for Christmas. Marion Roach will not be the only one giving copies of this book for Christmas. I have friends who will fall in love with the book. I feel privileged to have had a glimpse into her world. The measure of Letters From Eden to me, is that it could have been sold for the words alone, but the watercolors and the renderings create a rich tapestry that is absolutely charming. Jane Goodall loved it! I loved it. You will too!
Guest More than 1 year ago
My gift giving just got ever so much easier. I want every one I love to have this book. The drawings and watercolors are enchanting. The essays are beautifully written and bursting with life.