The Natural World of Winnie-the-Pooh: A Walk Through the Forest that Inspired the Hundred Acre Wood

The Natural World of Winnie-the-Pooh: A Walk Through the Forest that Inspired the Hundred Acre Wood

by Kathryn Aalto

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Overview

The Natural World of Winnie-the-Pooh: A Walk Through the Forest that Inspired the Hundred Acre Wood by Kathryn Aalto

Loved “Goodbye Christopher Robin”? Learn more about the real place that inspired the beloved stories.

Delve into the home of the world’s most beloved bear! The Natural World of Winnie-the-Pooh explores the magical landscapes where Pooh, Christopher Robin, and their friends live and play. The Hundred Acre Wood—the setting for Winnie-the-Pooh’s adventures—was inspired by Ashdown Forest, a wildlife haven that spans more than 6,000 acres in southeast England. In the pages of this enchanting book you can visit the ancient black walnut tree on the edge of the forest that became Pooh’s house, go deep into the pine trees to find Poohsticks Bridge, and climb up to the top of the enchanted Galleons Lap, where Pooh says goodbye to Christopher Robin. You will discover how Milne's childhood connection with nature and his role as a father influenced his famous stories, and how his close collaboration with illustrator E. H. Shepard brought those stories to life. This charming book also serves as a guide to the plants, animals, and places of the remarkable Ashdown Forest, whether you are visiting in person or from the comfort of your favorite armchair. In a delightful narrative, enriched with Shepard’s original illustrations, hundreds of color photographs, and Milne’s own words, you will rediscover your favorite characters and the magical place they called home.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781604695991
Publisher: Timber Press, Incorporated
Publication date: 09/23/2015
Pages: 308
Sales rank: 132,027
Product dimensions: 6.70(w) x 9.20(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Kathryn Aalto is an American landscape designer, historian, writer, and lecturer. She has master’s degrees in garden history and creative nonfiction with a particular interest in literary landscapes. The Natural World of Winnie-the-Pooh is a New York Times bestseller, a People Best New Book Pick, and it was featured on National Public Radio. She is a member of the Association for the Study of Literature and the Environment and the Garden History Society. Learn more at kathrynaalto.com.

Read an Excerpt

Introduction
 
Reading A. A. Milne’s stories for children is like tasting my grandmother’s lemon meringue pie: the crust, tangy curd, and pile of meringue transport me to frothy, faraway days. On California summer days, my large family gathered together in the dappled light of my grandparents’ garden, and there were always lemon meringue pies. Those were carefree and fleeting days, when the most important thing I had to consider was which tree to climb and what direction to wander. The pie and the books are bound in nostalgia for bygone days.

Like you, I was read stories from Winnie-the-Pooh and The House At Pooh Corner at bedtime. Decades later, I have read the same stories to my children. The two teenagers cannot hide the twinkles in their eyes. Their younger brother rolls on the floor, clutching his sides with mirth and jollity. Their expressions reveal a tenderness for the adventures of the characters who inhabit the Hundred Acre Wood, a fictional landscape that is based on a real place in England. They still laugh zestfully at Milne’s clever wordplay, dry humor, and silly plot twists. They adore E. H. Shepard’s sensitive illustrations, asking me to hold up the heavy red book just a little longer as Piglet tries to be brave or Pooh tries taming a slippery message-in-a-bottle.

A. A. Milne’s prose is joyful, E. H. Shepard’s drawings exquisite. Their collaboration created a classic, one of the most beloved and cherished children’s books of all time. There is so much charm to Milne’s writing in the way he captured a tender and free time of childhood, and created characters from an economy of words.

Winnie-the-Pooh is loyal and compassionate, playfully composing impromptu poetry and hums, and visiting friends for a smackerel of something. Like a four-, five-, or six-year-old, he is also a magical thinker: “If I plant a honeycomb outside my house, then it will grow up into a beehive.” This and other admirable traits have inspired a plethora of books on philosophy, psychology, and literary criticism, including The Tao of Pooh, Pooh and the Philosophers, Pooh and the Psychologists, and PostmodernPooh.

We know the bear’s other friends as well. His best friend, Piglet, is nervous and timid, just a little fellow who often overcomes his fears at Pooh’s side. And then there is Rabbit, who personifies the person of action; he is the best speller among the animals of the Hundred Acre Wood and he likes to organize, take charge and write bureaucratic Rissolutions. Out of earshot, Rabbit has said, “Owl, you and I have brains. The others have fluff. If there is any thinking to be done in this Forest—and when I say thinking I mean thinking—you and I must do it.” Of course, we readers know Owl cannot even spell his own name (note “Wol”) and especially not “Happy Birthday.” Still, he is regarded as the wisest of the animals of the Hundred Acre Wood because he can use long words and is—well, long-winded. Dear Kanga is maternal and loving, while her little one, Roo, is always eager to try new things and test mother’s boundaries. (“I can swim,” says Roo. “I fell into the river, and I swimmed.”) If a person is feeling “a bit like Eeyore,” everybody knows this means gloom and pessimism have settled in. Eeyore’s counterpart is the effervescent Tigger. Introduced in the second book, The House At Pooh Corner, Tigger is the most exuberant of the forest animals, but he has issues with self-restraint and controlling his bounce. (“I didn’t bounce, I coughed,” he says when accused of hooshing Eeyore into the stream during a novel game of Poohsticks.)

Last but not least, there is Christopher Robin. He is the benevolent and gentle child leader of the forest, a friend to all, and one of the most famous characters in children’s literature. He was also A. A. Milne’s real son, and his menagerie of stuffed animals provided the inspiration for these tales in an equally real place called Ashdown Forest, a landscape of sweeping heathland and atmospheric woodlands thirty miles south of London. The forest is a man-made landscape distinctive for large and rare heathland punctuated by gorse and bracken. A plant native to western Europe and Africa, gorse is a thorny shrub, closely related to broom. Bracken is a large genus of coarse ferns, and heath is a family of woody, low-growing shrub. The forest was at the doorstep of Milne’s home, Cotchford Farm, and the sweet tales of adventure and friendship were set here.

Time stands still in the fictional Hundred Acre Wood. In our childhood imaginations, the forest and woods where Winnie-the-Pooh and his friends wander might be a static place visited only when we were young. In the real setting of Ashdown Forest, of course, the living, breathing landscape has changed. Trees—so prevalent in the stories—grow and then die. Streams move and meander. Fires clear plants. Many places in the Hundred Acre Wood, however, are much the same as they were in Milne’s day—Poohsticks Bridge, the Enchanted Place, and Roo’s Sandy Pit are just a few examples. We can visit those places.

For places no longer around, it is possible to read the landscape for its own stories. As a landscape historian and designer, I am trained to read the landscape like a text and to unfold narratives of the past through research, interviews, and photographs. I also know when it is time to chuck books for boots and go outside for a walk.

Few topics can possibly be as fun as researching the natural world of Winnie-the-Pooh. My interest in the topic began in 2007 when I moved from my farm in Washington State to Devon, England. Avid hiking in American wilderness led to serious walking in England. I fell in love with the vast and ancient network of public footpaths and bridleways on this island in the Atlantic. From cliffs in Cornwall to Scottish highlands, walking gave me, an expat, an intimate understanding of my new home across the pond. My family and I have walked paths winding over mountains in the Lake District, through flocks of sheep in Yorkshire, and along the rocky Cornwall coasts. The length of Britain fits into my home state of California, but legal rights to roam provide extraordinary access to the landscape, which I’d not experienced in the United States. Walking here also has a different feel. A circular ten-mile path, for example, can feel epic; it is not unusual to find a Bronze Age earth mound near a village with a Norse or Norman name where Roman ruins have been preserved.

A slow and intimate way to navigate a new place, walking adventures, as we also see with Christopher Robin, connect children with nature in wonderful ways. Each passing year as my children’s accents changed from American to English, they also gained miles of new understanding about nature and culture. We recently walked the Coast-to-Coast Path, an iconic trail across the middle of England, from the Irish Sea to the North Sea. They picked up pebbles from the Irish Sea, stuffed them in their pockets, and threw them into the North Sea two weeks and two hundred miles later. Between the Lake District in the west and Yorkshire in the east, they found toads and bats, fell into bogs, and picked wildflower bouquets. They read maps and navigated over streams, through fields and up trails. They were troopers; I was the one with blisters.

At the same time, I was reading Ann Thwaite’s superb biography A. A. Milne: His Life. Smitten by his unusual childhood in the natural world, I then read his autobiography, It’s Too Late Now. I learned that Winnie-the-Pooh and The House At Pooh Corner were more than stories of a boy wandering the landscape with his imaginary chums, but were based in part on memories of his own golden childhood. He gave the same freedom he had to his son, Christopher Robin, by moving from London to Ashdown Forest. Milne’s books are favorites from my own childhood as well as my own children’s, and I had to learn more. As I got to know him as a person, the stronger I felt his presence when visiting his home, Cotchford Farm, and walking in nearby Ashdown Forest. I wanted to write a book he would be proud of. This book is the result of passions for walking, landscapes, and literature—all things Milne loved and celebrates in his writing.

Since Winnie-the-Pooh and The House At Pooh Corner were published in 1926 and 1928, they have taken on greater meaning. We value the books for simple expressions of empathy, friendship, and kindness. The stories are classics as they express enduring values and open our hearts and minds to help us live well. But as I read about Milne and walked around England with my children, I saw how they also tell another story: the degree to which the nature of childhood has changed in the ninety years since Milne wrote the stories. There is less freedom to let children roam and explore their natural and urban environments. There are more digital distractions for our children that keep them indoors and immobile, and heightened parental fears that do so as well.

Combined with E. H. Shepard’s emotionally delicate illustrations, the stories feel like snapshots from a past we want to regain. At a time when there is so much talk about nature-deficit disorder, rising childhood obesity levels, reduced school recess, and overprotected childhoods, these stories and illustrations remind us of the joy in letting our children explore the natural world and the importance of imaginative play away from the eyes of parents. The real and imagined places of the Hundred Acre Wood are tender touchstones for the precious time of childhood. Milne’s books remind us that aimless wandering and doing Nothing is actually a very big Something for little ones. A lot of walking and a lot of reading can instill an appreciation for landscapes and literature and a whole lot more. I hope you enjoy the journey through these pages.
 
 

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The Natural World of Winnie-the-Pooh: A Walk Through the Forest that Inspired the Hundred Acre Wood 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A fascinating book any lover of A.A. Milne would cherish.