Reading the Landscape

When I fall in love with a name, I find myself walking around the house rolling that name around in my head, concocting an image of the one who bears it. One of those names that has found a place in my imagination for all the years since I first heard it is the unlikely name May Theilgaard Watts.

May Theilgaard Watts (I can't imagine anyone calling her by anything other than her full name, although I know that's silly) was a naturalist at the Morton Arboretum outside of Chicago. And I dearly wish I could claim to have gone there to meet her, if only to have her sign one of her wonderful books, but I never did. I just worshipped the woman from afar, and rolled that name around on my tongue as a kind of mantra for an aspect of the woman I wanted to become.

Which wasn't a naturalist, although I have spent a little time pouring over the details of field marks, comparing them to one field guide or another, like some kind of manic detective determined to track down the identity of yet another suspect.

May Theilgaard Watts
wrote several of the most valuable, easy to use, guides to plant and tree identification I ever used: and Both use the "if-then" key method, accompanied by her own charming illustrations. "If it has needles..." "If it has leaves..." "If the flowering part is composed of ... then see page" "If the leaf is simple." "If it has only 3 leaflets." Etc. You are guided gently from one possibility to another until the final "Aha!"

Do you take winter walks? No flowers, few birds, not a whole lot of leaves? She's written one for you, too. .

But the book that inspired me, the one that gave me a deeper insight into landscape and the people who inhabit it, the one that made me want to incorporate landscape into my fiction, was .

I don't have my copy anymore - I vaguely remember lending it to my mother - or maybe she lent it to me and I returned it. But I found this description on a Barnes and Noble site, and I'm inspired to order myself another copy.

"Take a field trip with American naturalist May Theilgaard Watts to see how nature, history, and culture have written their stories on the landscapes of Italy, France, Switzerland, Germany, Denmark, Norway, and Britain. ...Watts explores the hills of Italy, the grouse heath of Yorkshire, the Black Forest of Germany, the limestone plateaus of France, and much more, explaining the forces that shaped these landscapes and continue to change them. She draws on botany, ecology, and geography, but also literature and folklore, to interpret the clues written on the land, as she considers the shapes of rooflines and coastlines, the ecology of forests and hedgerows, or the design of a vegetable plot. Illustrated with pen and ink drawings by the author. Includes a key to identifying the trees of Europe."

It references one of her books I have not read, . I'm thinking of taking another little trip myself today. Up the Amazon.