The first environment away from home that provided me with a warm sense of place was a summer cottage—a tar-paper shack—my father built for us on Cranbury Neck cove, on the east side of South Watuppa Pond, the southern half of a long glacial lake southeast of Fall River, Massachusetts, in southern New England. The northern half of the lake was
retained as a drinking water reservoir.
This sense of place I speak of is born of important events that happen to us there. Our memories wed the event to the place, and we recall it as magical. There is of course a flood of such important events when we are young and so much is new.
For example, when I was seven or eight, before having learned to swim alone, I crawled over the rocks of the lake’s shallow zone, and these were mountains to me. Indeed, because I was also learning to read English (a second language) at that time, and had somehow been introduced to the highest Andean peak (Acongagua of Chile), a brown-tipped rock that rose slightly above the others in the ice-push zone of my lake is still Mt. Acongagua in my mind, even though I have since seen the actual Chilean peak.
When we were oral people, such places were said to speak to us. Today we can say that we speak for such places.
The cottage on the lake was a godsend for a dozen years. It allowed all of us to escape the gray surround of Fall River for two months and more every summer. Barefoot time. We seven siblings, each in our way, swam, boated, and fished the lake. Surprisingly, however, only I built on that experience to became a naturalist
It was here, at age eight, that I first came face to face with a wild bird and lost my heart to this colorful tribe. I came to see this as an epiphany. The bird was a male Black-and-White Warbler, only five inches long. It landed on the porch railing, four feet away. I froze and it eyed me for less than two seconds before flying off. It seemed to me to focus all the energy of existence itself! I knew I would have to learn all I could about these amazing kin.
I have identified nearly 2500 bird species since then, and though I no longer chase them, I never tire of them, at home or abroad. They are my firmest tie to Nature, but not alone in providing a sense of commonalty with the world.
A surprising sequel is that I met no one else interested in birds until I joined the Boy Scouts six years later. But gradually, thanks to that chance meeting when I was eight, I introduced many to birds by learning to make a career of Audubon Society education work, even devoting a dozen years to warning of the threat of chemical pesticide uses that
killed so many birds.