Ask any wildlife biologist to name an important professional influence, and most will say Aldo Leopold (1887-1948). His textbook, Game Management (1933), essentially created the profession of wildlife management.
Aldo Leopold. Leopold, however, is better known to the general public for his book, A Sand County Almanac and Sketches Here and There. It is nature writing at its best.
Fortunately, for every Aldo Leopold there are dozens of other naturalist/writers who have made regional names for themselves. Pennsylvania has Ned Smith.
E. Stanley “Ned” Smith (1919-1985) was a self-taught naturalist, writer, and artist. He worked for Pennsylvania Game News, first as an employee and later as a freelancer. He illustrated nearly 120 Game News covers and wrote a monthly column illustrated by his own pen-and-ink drawings.
Long before I had ever heard of Aldo Leopold, I got to know Ned Smith from his work in Game News. Smith’s words and drawings inspired me to explore the woods, fields, and streams near my home in southeastern Pennsylvania. Through Smith’s work I learned about box turtles, rattlesnakes, deer, and great horned owls, among other things.
In 1971 the Game Commission published a collection of Ned Smith columns entitled Gone for the Day. To the delight of hunters, anglers, and wildlife watchers, it has been in print for more than 40 years and 10 printings. It was organized in a month-by-month almanac form and illustrated with Smith’s own artwork.
Gone for Another Day (2013, $15.50) is a new collection of Smith’s work, compiled and edited by Pennsylvania nature writer Scott Weidensaul. He, too, grew up reading and being inspired by Smith’s work, so the two years he devoted to the project was a labor of love.
Not only was Weidensaul inspired by Smith, he helped establish the Ned Smith Center for Nature and Art.
Once again arranged in a chronological almanac format, Another Day is taken from 46 years of field journals and scores of previously unpublished illustrations. Selecting which entries to include in the book was difficult because there was so much quality material to choose from.
Open Another Day to any page to join Ned on a fishing trip, a turkey hunt, or a bird walk. A great addition to Another Day is a series of sidebars called “Farther Afield.” Weidensaul takes us beyond Penn’s Woods to some of Smith’s more distant destinations. Readers can tag along as Smith hunts elk in Idaho, fishes for tarpon in Florida, and watches grizzly bears in the Rockies.
One of the lessons from Smith’s work is how artwork complements science when illustrations are added to field notes. It obviously helps that Smith was a gifted artist, but any form of artwork, even primitive stick figures, can improve the quality of field notes.
It’s hard to beat a walk in the woods with a skilled, experienced naturalist who can identify and interpret almost everything you see and hear. Ned Smith may be gone, but his words and art live on.
Get to know Ned by reading his work slowly, maybe just a few pages each night. And when you finish the book, I’ll bet you read it again and again. It’s that kind of book.
Order Gone for Another Day at www.nedsmithcenter.org .
Another recent book by Weidensaul also warrants a recommendation. Author of more than two dozen natural history books, including Living on the Wind: Across the Hemisphere with Migratory Birds and Mountains of the Heart: A Natural History of the Appalachians, Weidensaul tackles early American history in The First Frontier: The Forgotten History of STRUGGLE, SAVAGERY, & ENDURANCE in Early America (2012, Houghton, Mifflin, Harcourt).
The word “frontier” often conjures up images of cowboys and the wild west, but Weidensaul’s The First Frontier predates that period.
This is the story of 250 years of encounters and conflicts between Native Americans and European settlers. It is set in a time when the western edge of the American frontier was the Ohio River. It’s a story I never learned in school and one that history buffs will appreciate.