One Day on Beetle Rock

SOME of us, when this century was not too old, began a course in the world of the great woods under the direction of the Canadian, the late Sir Charles G. D. Roberts. He gave to many readers an insight into wild life unique for its excellent quality of observation, for its fidelity to truth, and for the poetry of the prose in which it was recorded. Among his best books were Red Fox (a kind of nature novel). The Kindred of the Wild, and The Watchers of the Trails. Red Fox, in its secret way, seems to me as immortal as Henry Williamson’s much later, and much deeper, Tarka the Otter. Sir Charles was fortunate in having a fine and sympathetic illustrator in the late Charles Livingston Bull and — for a few of his books — in the equally gifted Paul Bransom.
So far as one reader is concerned, Henry Williamson is the only English-speaking observer of nature who has ever competed successfully with the author of Red Fox. Many others have written convincingly and beautifully about small birds and animals, but none has been able to assume so well the wild creature’s point of view.
Now comes Sally Carrighar, a young lady reared in Ohio and schooled in the Canadian woods and in the Far West. In One Day on Beetle Rock she has told in scrupulous prose and with great intensity the story of a certain June 18 on Beetle Rock in the High Sierras. She has managed with consummate skill to interweave the stories of a Weasel, a Sierra Grouse, a Chickaree, a Black Bear, a Lizard, a Coyote, a Deer Mouse, a Steller’s Jay, and a Mule Deer. Hundreds of hours of observation must have preceded her book. Not a leaf-turn, not a shadow, not a footfall or a wing-flash has escaped her. One can almost follow “the scents that lay like vines across the forest floor.” The scene is tranquil but the pace is fast.
Far from a world at war is this vivid world untouched by man. Yet it is not a peaceful world, in one sense, for life and death are near neighbors in any forest anywhere. Nature, too, is cruel and cold. But with her it is almost always life against life and not lives against lives.
Part of the pleasure of this rewarding book derives from the wood engravings by Henry Bugbee Kane, a worthy successor of Mr. Bull and a naturalist in his own right. Knopf. $2.75.