Tales You Won’t Believe – Review
Tales You Won’t Believe, by Gene Stratton-Porter, Hutchinson
This is the earliest book I have found that speaks of climate change. Published about 1913, I came across it when I was poking about a second-hand book shop, and found it enchanting.
Stratton-Porter was an American writer, nature photographer and film producer. With her husband she built and lived in a rustic house in the Limberlost in eastern Indiana, an area she knew well from childhood. It was a large wetlands area with streams flowing into the Wabash river that attracted a wide variety of birds, insects and moths. She dedicated time to recording and photographing the species she saw and wrote about them in this book. She clearly loved the beauties of nature that she saw, and floating through this text in a natural way is her faith in God and the intricacy of creation. She describes in close detail some of the birds she watched and encouraged to nest, personalising her conversation with them. As any good conservationist would today, she hung appropriate nesting boxes according to species, though we would be more likely to watch, rather than kill and pin, the wide variety of moths.
Sadly, at that time and for years before, local farmers were draining the swamplands for farming and this had serious consequences for the Limberlost. Stratton-Porter recalls the decline in wildlife generally, and birds more particularly, as forest was destroyed in her childhood. Describing with horror the cutting of every tree on a farmer’s land, she comments that the hardwood trees would be worth a fortune at the time of writing. As the forests were destroyed, so the creeks and springs dried up, the winds from the prairies blew through, and rainfall declined, “and so the work of changing the climatic conditions of a world was well under way.” Those of us who preach on environmental issues today were preceded by Stratton-Porter’s father, a Methodist minister, well over a hundred years ago.
Her way of attributing human emotions and comments to birds and flowers is of her era, but would read strangely to some. However, I find it acutely underlines her closeness to and involvement with the natural world around her. Take the description of the last passenger pigeon that she sees: the pigeon leaves this changed habitat, that was once home to thousands of passenger pigeons, with an accusation hurled to the skies. This may be anthropomorphic but is also a ringing cry from the natural world to humanity, lamenting the damage and careless change that we cause.
This book is still available at second-hand book websites like Abebooks, and I commend it as an insight into the environmental concerns of a hundred years ago.