Cover

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Contents

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Origins

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pp. 1-4

I spent much of my childhood in a three-story brownstone house in Manhattan, only a few blocks away from Grand Central Station. My father was a curator of archaeology at the American Museum of Natural History, a huge edifice just o√ Central Park. The Central Park Zoo was where I made an acquaintance with animals behind bars. ...

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Education

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pp. 5-9

what i best remember of my schooling in the first two grades of elementary school in the city was having my ears pulled by a teacher whose name I have never forgotten. Miss Halpern, may you rest in peace. Aside from that, I was set to work filling in the outline of an apple with red crayon. The juicy flavor of the apple was left to our lost imaginations. ...

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The Past at Home

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pp. 10-14

During my early years I was governed by an annual and daily routine that might seem highly oppressive in today’s more disengaged world: ‘‘Here today and gone tomorrow.’’ Yet that age, with far more space available to it, also had room for imagination, which was indirectly encouraged. At an age when it might have seemed to the adults in my life that all I knew was what I had been told to ...

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School Days

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pp. 15-19

At the age of 14, i was sent to another boarding school in Concord, where Lucky Lindy had landed. On arrival, I felt so homesick that I wrote home to my parents, who were still at Lake Sunapee, expressing my misery. Mother wasted no time. Almost by return mail a letter came for me with the suggestion that I find a copy of Emerson’s essays and read the one on self-reliance. ...

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Lindbergh's Space

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pp. 20-22

In the year 1927, when i was approaching my twelfth birthday, my father drove me down to Concord, New Hampshire, from our home on Lake Sunapee. Charles A. Lindbergh, who had recently made his famous flight across the Atlantic, was in town and his plane, the Spirit of St. Louis, was housed in a hangar just outside the city limits. It was inconceivable ...

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Travel

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pp. 23-27

Travel, when i was growing up, never seemed to have lost its original ties to Europe. That is where most of us came from. There were those in this country who regretted losing the stabilizing influence of the British Empire when they felt the present state of the nation was being threatened with a lack of order and stability. Growing power sent ...

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Climbing the Steps

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pp. 28-32

In the year 1934, i was seated at a small desk along with many others in Harvard’s Memorial Hall. It was during the week set aside for freshman orientation, and I was in a state of semiparalysis. It surprised me that I had been admitted to Harvard in the first place, because I thought I had done so badly on the college entrance exams. ...

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The Poet

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pp. 33-42

The first time I met Conrad Aiken was at his house in Rye, in Suffolk, England. After graduating from college, I was on my way, in the fall of 1938, to Geneva, where there was a slim possibility of getting a job at the International Labor Office. I had known its director, John Winant, when he was governor of New Hampshire and I was at St. Paul’s ...

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Mind the Gap

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pp. 43-45

As i was getting ready to leave forty-one doors, Conrad said that he felt sorry for any friend of theirs who had to meet the world. I did not really understand what he meant by it, though I recognized that the world, as always, was a dangerous place, full of threats and treachery, no haven for the shy and retiring. In his case, it might have ...

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Going Home

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pp. 46-49

After I was discharged from the army, my sense of relief was profound. My wife Kristi and I walked over to Times Square to join the crowd on the night of the armistice. Broadway and the theater district shone with reflected light from the billboards high overhead. We watched the latest news moving by on the Times building. It was a quiet ...

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A Sea Change

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pp. 50-53

We drove to cape cod toward the end of winter, moving into Forty-One Doors while the Aikens were away, so as to watch the construction of our new house on Dry Hill. It was only a mile away as the crow flies. The hill, 120 feet above sea level, stood out like a high sand dune whose slopes were covered by what was called ‘‘scrub oak’’ and ...

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The Nearness of Universe

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pp. 54-55

After many days of gray sea weather, cold fog hanging between the trees, plus sleet and rain, the north wind blew in and snow fell everywhere over this land in the sea. After the storm was over, I walked out into the night. The dark ground was lost under a pure white coating of snow, which was crossed by long shadows from the trees as ...

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On the Edge

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pp. 56-60

I am, after a lifetime, starting—in the same place where I began—to move out and discover the worlds of life that had begun to reveal themselves. I am in a dingy wood, full of dead and dying trees; they look as if they had endured some catastrophic event. There are many reasons for it. The trees have been cut down and cut again for firewood ...

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Poverty Grass

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pp. 61-62

It helped a great deal to have come to a relatively impoverished and abandoned piece of land. If it could be called poverty stricken, that allied it with what the native Cape Codders called ‘‘poverty grass,’’ a species of Hudsonia, or beach heather, that grew in the sand dunes. We had enough money to build our house and pay the bills, but what the ...

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The Natives

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pp. 63-65

The winter after we settled into our house on Dry Hill, there was a period in late winter when the snow fell for what must have been two days and nights. The local road, Stony Brook, was impassable. The neighbors, most of whom we had never met before, started to shovel out the high drifts to open the road. A snowplow had come in and ...

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Ring Around the Moon

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pp. 66-67

Originally, I had bought dry hill almost by accident, leaving open the possibility that I might be able to count on it later. When we finally moved in, I realized that the space it offered was not of my own choosing. We looked down from Dry Hill, 120 feet above sea level—high for a land of low glacial hills and sand dunes—and saw the narrow ...

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Migration

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pp. 68-69

A few people thought there was something very repetitious and uninteresting about the annual migration of the ‘‘herrin.’’ They were ‘‘only fish,’’ after all, without much choice in what they did. That we too might always be doing the same thing is not what we like to think about, because that deprives us of the illusion of free will. ...

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Worlds Without End

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pp. 70-75

The town of Brewster had a population of 900 when we came on the scene. This was to climb to a year-round population of 10,000 by the end of the century. Many New England towns, born of the industrial age, were far more populated at an earlier date. Brewster was a ‘‘backwater’’ village for a long time, hard to reach from the mainland ...

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Berry's Hole

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pp. 76-81

I knew very little about threatened and endangered species before we moved to the Cape. I associated extinction with dinosaurs and the dodo, whatever that was. Later on, I became very much aware of what had happened to the passenger pigeon, which had once darkened the skies of America, a beautiful, much-admired bird, so numerous ...

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The Skippers

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pp. 82-84

It was on the seventh day of April, many years ago. I was walking along the edge of the salt marsh that surrounds Wind Island. On the farther side of the island was Stony Brook and the inlet that brought in the annual run of alewives. Wing Island has a small beach along its outer side facing the bay. The marsh grasses, turned gray by winter ...

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Inside the Storm

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pp. 85-87

For the first time, the land we had moved to was plain enough to read. I began to see ways into an underlying reality I had not been introduced to. Living on the ‘‘edge of nowhere’’ did not cut me off but teased my spirit into the open. Fish, birds, trees, and the weather called for some recognition in me that I had been unwilling or too ...

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A Walk on the Great Beach

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pp. 88-91

Because i had always been attracted to headlands and uninhabited shores, I read Henry Beston’s Outermost House soon after we moved to the Cape. I envied him the hospitality he found on that lonely but immensely inspiring shore. You had to go out, as John Muir suggested, in order to find your way in. So I decided to walk it and get the feel ...

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Learning to Teach

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pp. 92-94

When I was gathering material for a book about the herring run, I met a new acquaintance of ours in the town of Harwich. She told me, with some relish, that she had heard I was writing a book about the sex life of fish. ‘‘Is that true?’’ Well, I supposed, that must be close enough. My favorite aunt, Alice, a sister of my father’s, wrote me a letter ...

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Paine's Creek

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pp. 95-98

The wind, which blew almost constantly at times during the fall, spring, and winter months, was rattling the windows and filling the house with unexpected sounds. We often woke up just before dawn, a primal event I had neglected in previous years because of an addiction to sleep and schedules. A persimmon bush appeared between ...

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Ascension Day

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pp. 99-105

While we were still settling in and adjusting to our new land and its struggling trees, my heart still ached for what I had left behind in New Hampshire. I saw the lightning striking in the forestlands like the forked roots of a great tree. I walked past blue columbine and found painted trillium growing by the brook, with its bold and unfailing ...

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The Protection of Silence

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pp. 106-108

In 1914 my father built a small and comfortable cottage on the shore of Lake Sunapee, 1000 feet above sea level, in anticipation of his marriage in 1915. Since the death of my parents, the cottage has been under the protection of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and is maintained by a local group called the Friends of the John Hay Wildlife ...

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When the Clouds Take On a Life of Their Own

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pp. 109-110

One late afternoon in midwinter I was walking down our local beach, with nobody in sight at first, when I met two friends walking toward me. They told me to look for a rare sight ahead of me, out on the tides. It was almost high tide, and the sandbars o√shore that form a limited barrier beach were beginning to disappear underwater, ...

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The Bonds of Freedom

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pp. 111-114

I learned from watching birds of the sea and shore that each kind, whether it was a sanderling, an eider, a red-breasted merganser, or a loon, had its own dynamic relationship with the sea. They were not simply identified by looking up their names and characteristics in a field guide. Identification was one thing, and underlying complexities another. Each species had its own set of emotional ...

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Timing

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pp. 115-118

One year, in the middle of a lifetime of trying to educate myself in the details of the natural world, I thought of flowers. I had been exposed to gardens for a long time, but I knew very little botany. Plants were either wild or tame, like the animals, and when I was young I just assumed that human cultivation was probably what motivated plants to ...

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Freedom of the Seas

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pp. 119-121

Cape Cod has always had a transitory nature. Whatever we have done to consciously change and bury it, or to make money and move on, it belongs to the sea itself. Man finds himself in the unhappy and often desperate position of not being able to turn back the tides, or his own growing avalanche of unsettlement on a shrinking land. ...