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Little Books, Big Inspirations

Maybe you can judge a book by its cover.

August 25, 2021 :: Wildflowers

I’m a big fan of these small books. Published in the 1970s and now out of print, I found the first volume in my favorite local used bookstore more than twenty years ago. I’ve read it every spring since then and I learn something new each time.

The botanical photographs in all four volumes by Torkel Korling inspire me to search for the same beautiful flowers in the right settings, so I can make my own pleasing photos of them. And the botanical descriptions, natural history and inspiring prose that accompany the pictures frame my wish list of wildflowers to photograph in each season and in every environment.

The first book I found is still my favorite: Wild Plants In Flower – Deciduous Forest (1974) by Mr. Korling and Robert O. Petty, professor and essayist. Their personal and professional stories would fill a book of its own.

Korling's cover photo of a drift of Great white trilliums (Trillium grandiflorum) in a forest is described by the professor in a way that makes you want to slow down and reread it, then rush to read more.

He says of the woodland scene “Spring light in a young forest, a crowd of Trillium above decaying leaves – we have been here before. But long before us, before the millenia of glaciers brought summer as but a taunting of the sun, recurrent drought had shaped evolving strategies – autumn and spring of the deciduous forest, where to survive was to win by loss, or not at all. Slowly our curve of earth tilts south again and here and there we find the ancient secret.”

How I am swept up by each phrase and I hang onto every word.

The three other Wild Plants In Flower volumes are just as informative and captivating: The Prairie – Swell and Swale (Korling and Robert Betz, 1972); The Boreal Forest and Borders (Korling and Edward Voss, 1973); and Wetlands and Quiet Waters of the Midwest (Korling and Petty, 2004). All four small books may be found at online bookstores or from independent used booksellers, if you are patient and fortunate.

In the Epilogue of the Deciduous Forest book, Robert Petty concludes the seasonal journey through the woodland with a lasting thought about this environment's place in our history and our future.

He says "In preserving the forest habitats of these wild flowers as living museums it is clear, too, that we save a refuge of human thought and feeling. To the first generations of Americans, centuries ago, the deciduous forest was home. And forever embedded in a nation's memory is a clearing of light -- stumpland circling a cabin and beyond the fence rails a walking distance -- all the world we knew winter and summer. Those who watched the strange and many barks, mile upon mile, grow dark in evening snow, perhaps drew a vaster meaning out of April, having forgone family, friends and comfort for a lonely land where youth was brief. So far away in time, can we wholly comprehend such gift of flowers? Carpet of Trout-lily and Violets to cover tiny graves. Spring-beauty and Trillium -- these were our heritage. Have we come so far?"


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