The Road of a Naturalist
author By HOUGHTON MIFFLIN
MR. PEATTIE’S title is a kind of transfigured pun. The road is, first, that of a motor journey that he and his wife took across the Mojave Desert, through Nevada and Utah, into the Northwest, down the Pacific coastal highway, and so back to their Santa Barbara base. The journey was made in the spirit of reflective leisure, with pauses for naturalizing by the way and for other purposes. The chief of the other purposes was to get away from the hourly horrors of the world’s current news — to shake off, if it could self-respectingly be done, the depression and the paralyzing sense of helpless responsibility that today dog all of us somewhat, and most those of the best will. This purpose involved Mr. Peattie in a process of deliberately taking stock of himself and especially of surveying his profession of a nature writer in relation to the affairs of his time and of all time; a process of looking back over the longer road of his entire past. Thus the book becomes two things at once: first, the account of a particularly recent journey, jeweled with the descriptions of fauna and flora that Mr. Peattie writes as excitingly as anyone now doing it in English; secondly, his intellectual and emotional autobiography to date. As a master of description the author of An Almanac for Moderns has perhaps had his due: has it been sufficiently remarked that he is also a master of aphorism? ‘In Nature the only barrens are the cities; these are all a howling wilderness where neither lion nor jackal dare set foot.’
‘All growing is at the same time a dying away from that which lived yesterday,’ ‘A mountain is as high as it looks.’ w. F.