Bringing in the new year naturally

back thenSome musings on the New Year, from one who never cared much for noisy midnight celebrations of any sort, but I have always enjoyed New Year’s ceremonials. 


As usual, on New Year’s Day Elizabeth and I and family members dined on black-eyed peas, hog jowl and cooked greens. The first two items were purchased at a grocery store. The mixed turnip greens, rape and kale, however, were harvested fresh from our garden. As every reasonable person is aware, a meal comprised of these three ingredients will guarantee sufficient luck and prosperity during 2014.

One thing I like to do on significant days like New Year’s is look up in their books or journals what various favorite writers were observing on those dates. Unsurprisingly, my favorite writers tend to be outdoor writers, especially naturalists of one sort or another.

My favorite 20th century nature writer is Edwin Way Teale (1899-1980). Teale can, in my opinion, be ranked with his great 19th century predecessors Henry David Thoreau and John Burroughs. His best known books are the series of four volumes that described his travels across the United States with: Nellie Teale, his wife: North with Spring (1951), Autumn Across America (1956), Journey into Summer (1960), and Wandering Through Winter (1965), for which he won the Pulitzer Prize. But I am also fond of and can recommend to you Circle of the Seasons (1953), Springtime In Britain (1970), and A Naturalist Buys an Old Farm (1974).

Teale was a meticulous yet graceful writer. His primary interest lay in describing what he actually observed in the natural world. Unlike many of the so-called New Naturalists of our modern era, he wasn’t much interested in over-analyzing his psychological processes for the reader’s benefit.

In Wandering Through Winter, Teal described a fox he and Nellie spotted in Death Valley one New Year’s Eve: 

“For a minute or more, the fox remained in sight, looking intently in our direction. Then with a graceful turn, it whirled into the shadow of the nearest mound. We saw it side view for an instant … its fox-face, its bushy tail. Then it was gone. With the image of that buoyant creature vivid in our minds, we drove back to our cabin. Midnight came and, in the stillness of the desert night, the old year slipped away.”

In Circle of the Seasons, Teal described the song of a white-throated sparrow heard one New Year’s Day:

 “Windless, silent, under a low ceiling of gray, this first morning of the new year is like an echoing room. Sounds carry far. In a tangle of cat-briar and shadbush, near the edge of the frozen water, a white-throated sparrow is singing a snatch of it springtime song. Again and again, I hear the pure, ethereal strain, simple, moving … no other voice among all the singers of nature affects me more deeply. The song of the white-throated sparrow — how fine a beginning for a new year!”

George Ellison wrote the biographical introductions for the reissues of two Appalachian classics: Horace Kephart’s Our Southern Highlanders and James Mooney’s History, Myths, and Sacred Formulas of the Cherokees. In June 2005, a selection of his Back Then columns was published by The History Press in Charleston as Mountain Passages: Natural and Cultural History of Western North Carolina and the Great Smoky Mountains. Readers can contact him at P.O. Box 1262, Bryson City, N.C., 28713, or at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..      

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