Cover image for Wolves and honey : a hidden history of New York State
Wolves and honey : a hidden history of New York State
Morrow, Susan Brind.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Boston : Houghton Mifflin, [2004]

Physical Description:
125 pages ; 22 cm
Personal Subject:
Format :


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F119 .M67 2004 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
F119 .M67 2004 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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Susan Brind Morrow brings her singular sensibility as a classicist and linguist to this strikingly original reflection on the fine but resilient threads that bind humans to the natural world. Anchored in the emblematic experiences of a trapper and a beekeeper, Wolves and Honey explores the implications of their very different relationships to the natural world, while illuminating Morrow's own poignant experience of the lives and tragic deaths of these men who deeply influenced her.
Ultimately for Morrow these two -- the tracker and trapper of wolves, the keeper of bees -- are a touchstone for a memoir of the land itself, the rich soil of the Finger Lakes region in upstate New York. From the ancient myth of the Tree of Life to the mysterious reappearance of wolves in the New York wilderness, from the inner life of the word "nectar," whose Greek root ("that which overcomes death") reveals our most fundamental experience of wonder, to the surprising links between the physics of light and the chemistry of sweetness, Morrow's richly evocative writing traces startling historical, scientific, and metaphorical resonances.
Wolves and Honey, attuned to the connections among various realms of culture and nature, time and language, jolts us into thinking anew about our sometimes neglected but always profound relationship to the natural world.

Author Notes

Susan Brind Morrow was born in the Finger Lake region of New Yokr. She attended Barnard College, studying Arabic and Egyptian hieroglyphs.

Morrow translated contemporary Arabic poetry and ancient Egyptian folk tales into English and worked on an archaeological survey in the Western Desert.

Her book, The Name of Things: A Passage in the Egyptian Desert, tells of her adventures among the nomads of the Red Sea Hills.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

In this lyrical memoir, Morrow (The Names of Things) muses on New York State's Finger Lake region, where she grew up. Her ruminations are loosely based on her memories of two men-one a trapper, the other a beekeeper-whose ability to connect with nature had a profound influence on the way she views the world. In a poetic narrative, she contemplates the natural history of the area and tells of the people who have inhabited it-the Seneca, spiritualists, fur traders, artists, scholars, scientists and nurserymen. Morrow goes beyond the obvious, allowing each observation to remind her of something else and searching for the inner meaning of words. The sight of a flock of crows, for example, reminds her of a poem by the Greek poet Pindar, and this leads to a meditation on what it means to be a poet. The apple tree, which grows so plentifully in the region, is a "talisman that one could follow through the layers of Finger Lake soil, through layers of memory and history," and this prompts thoughts on the Swedenborgian missionary John Chapman (known as Johnny Appleseed), spiritualism, the molecular structure of sweetness, Lucretius and the origin of apples in the mountains of Kazakhstan. Morrow's language is rich and sensuous, for she thinks like a poet. Agent, Tina Bennett. (July) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Booklist Review

A linguist, naturalist, and classicist, Morrow, whose previous book, The Names of Things 0 (1997), celebrated the austere landscapes of Egypt and Sudan, has turned her discerning eye toward the history of upstate New York. For Morrow, to be human is to see the numinous in the ordinary, a gift she learned in part from two of her neighbors, a beekeeper and a trapper. The author describes the marshlands, meadows, and woods of the narrow lakes area--and its residents--as existing in a kind of metaphorical cross-pollination. Fittingly, it is the trapper who recognizes the misnamed eastern coyote as the Algonquin red wolf, and whose knowledge is "a rare and precious thing, a remnant of an older world." Each concise essay contains riches. A meditation on apples, for instance, outlines not only the history of William Smith and other nurserymen of the Finger Lakes, but also the rise of spiritualism, and the discovery of a rare strain of the fruit in the Tien Shan mountains in Kazakhstan. --Rebecca Maksel Copyright 2004 Booklist

Library Journal Review

This wonderful glimpse into the natural world of the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York blends nature, society, horticulture, agriculture, and history. Native son and linguist Morrow (The Names of Things) starts with the deaths of two beloved friends who were deeply rooted in the region's natural world. Eloquently covering a large natural canvas, moving back and forth between the present and the past, Morrow brings to life the uniqueness of this region as well as the meaning of remembrance and responsibility toward family and friends. Recommended for all natural history and New York collections.-Michael D. Cramer, Schwarz BioSciences, RTP, NC (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



1 The Wood DuckLast night i dreamt I saw Bob Kime. I knew we were saying goodbye. I held him tight. Then he took off his jacket and gave it to me. It was a hunting jacket, soft and old, sort of bruised, I thought, and very dear. And then he was gone.I always thought of Bob as my own particular friend, but at the funeral home on Friday people were lined up down the block, people I didn't know.We waited in line for an hour and a half just to get into the room to approach the open casket where his body lay. Shawn was standing beside the casket, having very much his father's face. Had I seen the picture in the back? he said. A photograph tacked on a board among dozens of othersof Bob with his dogs, with Shawn, with snow geese on the ground at their feetand with them one of me and Bob in our bee suits in his old red pickup twenty years ago. Last Sunday I almost called him up to ask about a hive. But then I thought, Bob will think this is pathetic,my calling like this, as though nothing has changed after all these years. If only I had called him. For on Monday he shot himself.Like the many times I have gone out to watch the moon rise, only to nd it has risen, huge and gold and silent in a place where I have failed to look, I had missed the point, and the point was aimed deep into my own life, into the golden territory of the familiar. At the funeral on Saturday morning Terry was there, sitting in the back row a few feet from where I stood. At rst I didn't see him.Terry is in his sixties now. His black hair is white. But there were the huge sloping shoulders, the same large head, the gold outline of the glasses he has worn these last ten years as he turned to laugh with the person beside him, some stranger on edge, as we all were, in the dim yellow light of the crowded room, Bob's soft prole, like something set in stone, occasionally visible through the rows of people shifting like rows of corn in the wind. When everyone rose to leave after the service was over I leaned forward and slipped my ngers into Terry's large rough hand. "Well, Suzy," he said, "all your buddies are gone now."When I was growing up we thought Terry was a Cherokee Indian. It turned out that he was simply from California, and even though he had a crew cut and was something of a math whiz, and was also, it occurred to me only later, all the while a scientist and a chemistry professor at Cornell, he was our only real experience of the sixties, of an unconventional person. For a large man, who could easily have been threatening, he had an atmosphere of total ease, of kindness, and I had taken refuge in the safety of his presence for maybe thirty years. Later Lan and I drove down East Lake Road where the Kime elds lay in soft shining squares of pale green oats and darker soy and golden wheat, patched like a lovely quilt in a rolling sweep down toward the dark blue line of Seneca Lake. The Kime barns and dwarf apple trees and farmhouselarge and white and square, the way the farmhouses are there, with a square windowed cupola on top where one can sit and see out over the eldsstood by the road lined with maple trees, as they have stood from the earliest days of my life.Beside the bluestone marker just beyonda gravestone carved in the shape of a dog, a curious antiquea dirt road leads down to Anne and Terry's cottage on a bluff above the lake, the burnt-out shell of an old log cabin of dark wood, polished now and screened, so that it recedes within a line of tall white pines and is almost invisible. Anne has cancer, and has taken on a kind of translucence after these last months of illness, as though her ne blond hair were re- ned to silver.Her blue-green eyes had a radiance that surprised us as we walked in and saw her, for the rst time in maybe a year. We sat and watched the sun go down across the lake below through the broken black outlines of the trees. The faint icker of a rainbow formed for an instant in the low sky to the north, as though it were the rim of something suddenly visible, a shining fragment of the rim of a halo. The last light fell in a wave of gold that swept quickly around the room, settling for amoment on each of us in turn. We sat quietly talking in the dark, in what seemed like a box of deep blue light, as we had in summers past, so that the evening had about it a sense of timelessness.I reminded Terry of how once he said that everything operates on the level of four basic elements, their combining and breaking down, and that we are all "just some spectacular sideshow," as though all the desperate suffering of life were simply an elaboration of this basic principle."What is it that makes a human being?" he had said. "What denes being human? Falling in love. And what is that? Seeing something ordinary as . . .numinous."He thought amoment. "Seeing. The intensity of that focus, that concentration of energy, would be the heating up in which some signicant transformation could take place." Last Monday night a friend of mine called to say that she had heard a scream, a terrifying, almost human sound, and outside found a newborn fawn, still wet fromits mother, and all around it black vultures in the trees."Bob talked a lot of people out of trees,"Terry said, remembering how I rst went to him, just wanting to be around that kind of man, a hunter, the year my brother died, "but nobody was there for him."When we were children, barely able to walk, my parents would take us out into the middle of Seneca Lake and toss us off the side of their boat into the deep green water. Although we could oat in our life jackets, and there was the electric touch of the water itself, the lake seemed dense and bottomlessheavy matter, like a skin not easily shaken free. We had an instinctive dread of what could drift up through that heavy medium from belowthe immense primordial sturgeon, like pale ghosts, plated in hard ridges of leathery gray. The lake was something that we knew by heart, through our bodily senses as they themselves were formed.In those days there were only simple cottages in the bays, little clapboard houses of one story, painted blue or white or gray. The narrow water-worn docks of splintery wood stretched out into the water on thin pipes rarely more than a hundred feet.The elds behind them glittered with the multiplicity of summer life, speckled red beetles on the milkweed leaves, the fragrance of the milkweed unbearably sweet, its gummy milk bleeding into our hands, the seed pods, their skin like pale knobby velvet, pulled back to reveal a tight silver-white pattern of satin-rimmed scales. The seeds formed the body of a tiny sha sh made of silk you could pull to pieces and oat away.When we rst came to the cottage it was full of old things: a kind of old pine green and teal blue tinged with gray, lined plates of pale blue glass, heavy stoneware, a eldstone replace, and, before it, a bearskin rug smelling of bacon grease, and after we were there, mounted sh on the wallsthe walleye I had caught in Algonquin Park that was patterned green and gold, with its tall reptilian dorsal n (how often we would get the spines of sh ns stuck in our ngers in those days, and soak them out with Epsom salts). My parents bought the place with all its contents, and there were a lot of old books, Gene Stratton-Porter's A Girl of the Limberlost the story of a girl who put herself through school collecting rare moths in the swamps of Mackinawand The Keeper of the Bees, about aWorldWar I veteran dying in a war hospital, who got up and staggered away, and found a garden on the sea lled with owers in every shade of blue, a garden lled with skeps and bees.World War I and, after the terrible shock of that war, the solace in the eternal presence of nature, were pervasive elements in the atmosphere of the place. My mother was formed by the aftermath of that war, and the books in the cottage were embedded with a sense of the time, like the musty smell embedded in their pages. There was one green book, The Bird Study Book, with a golden moon pressed in relief on its cover, and ying across the golden moon a dark ock of geese. Years later the cover remained like a seal impression in my mind, although I had forgotten the book itself. One day in New York I called the astronomy department at Columbia University and said, "Can you see geese ying across the full moon?" Their reply, after I was put on hold for a minute, was "Yes. When there are geese ying across the full moon."My brother David became a duck hunter in his early teens. We used to go out in the boat so he could practice sighting the birds in ight at a distance around the lake when the migrations came through in the fall. We were used to seeing ocks of ducks settled on the icy water near the crumbling old stone pier as our father drove us to school in the morning down Hamilton Street. They had a mottled quality that almost shone in the crisp clear air. Some were beautifully patched with whitebufeheads and goldeneyes among the canvasbacks and redheads.One Christmas Eve David appeared on the porch in the dark in the moss green hunting jacket my mother had made for him by hand, with a brace of canvasbacks over his shoulder. My mother would later say, "How I remember his Adam's apple bobbing in his throat!" David, thin and blond as he was then, having recently come back as an eagle scout from Philmont, which made him even more of an outdoorsmanalways up at 4:00. There he stood with the glovesoft white breasts of the ducks, their burgundy, oddly shaped heads spilling down the front of his jacket.How cold it was, the lm of shining dark ice on the walk, the hard snow sparkling white beneath the trees, and my mother saying, "Well, you can pluck them outside!"But David and I went down to the basement and spread out newspapers on the oor. I remember the sense of the gathered tension of the feathers as they ripped out from the skin with a soft puckering sound, the feathers coming loose in my hands, the soft inner down full of mites. Redheads, bufeheads, canvasbacksthe meat gamy and tough, tasting of sh, full of shot, the shot falling loose on the plate as you cut the dark-stained meat. The circular burn around the shot burned into the esh remained, although we cooked the birds in wine for a long time.When we were children David and I used to catch things just to look at them, and sometimes kill them to see what was inside.One summer we found a mudpuppy under the dock, purple and splotched, with gills that blossomed out like the purple buds of a Judas tree, and perfectly ngered hands.We buried it on the shore and later dug it up to see its beautifully articulated thin white bones.My father was a lawyer, and we lived in town. But somehow for us as children our great experiences had to do with being outside. I have a photograph of David and me standing in the Canada woodsDavid in a soft blue cloth jacket with a white blond crew cut, me in faded corduroy lined with plaid.We are tiny beneath the tall trees amid the masses of green ferns. I am holding a magnifying glass toward the ground, and looking up. Thus is a life spun together through layers of sense impressions, the light speckling through the trees, the smell of dead leaves and damp earth. For me the elusive thing of value has ever been the golden light of kerosene lamps, walls of thin blond wood, tarpaper tacked over a table, some smell of damp, and just beyond the rich outlying darkness.When David died in 1981 I was studying Greek in New York. I still have taped above my desk a fragment from Ibycus:Tou men petaloisin ep" akrotatois Izanoisi poikilai aiolodeiroi Panelopes lathiporphurides te kai Alkuoves tanusipteroiIn these lines of early Greek poetry key words are mysteries, because the author made them up. And they were never used again. All one can do is break them down into their component parts, and then guess what the composite might mean. It reminded me of oolitic stone: in the words, as in the thing described, the beauty lay in the aws themselves, the irregularitiesthe speckling, the splotching, the mixing up.There was aiolodeiroithroats that shone with their dappling of colorwith aiolos implying a moving brightness, a glittering, a speckling, as in aiola nux, the starry sky. The fragment went something like this: Among the highest leaves they sat The mottled ducks, with throats That almost shone; And halcyons that secretly grow red with wings outstretched.One could only think, reading this, of the American wood duck with its shining splotches of color, its white speckled throat, its silverblue wings like the panes in cathedral windows. I don't know if there is another duck that lives in trees. The wood duck was a rare bird when I was growing up. Its populations had been decimated by the nineteenth-century fashion industry. I had never seen one, only in pictures in books.The hardest word was lathiporphurideswith porphyry, a word that means brightness itself, an emphatic doubling of the word for living brightnesspur, re, the moving brightness of burning red, or the heaving of the sea with its glittering changing light. Here attached to lathi, meaning "in stealth." The Greek dictionary made a leap into the violence implicit in the color red, and translated the word "feeds in the dark."I can't remember the day I met Bob Kime, he came into my life so quietly, and was so utterly familiar.My father and I would sometimes stop by his house near the lake on Sunday afternoons when some of his friends were over shooting clay pigeons. The men would be standing in a line, with great seriousness of purpose, aiming and shooting down the little clay discs as they were ung into the air out of the machine with a rapid clicking noise.I was never much of a shot, but when I was growing up it was considered important to know how to handle a gun. I had been target shooting from the age of eight. As a teenager I had my own Remington, and later even a pistol permit. There was a great deal of pleasure in sighting the discs as they fell rapidly through the sky, pulling the trigger, and seeing them shatter into pieces.Bob would be standing in the line all the while, casually joking as we all were. When one of us missed, he would stop midsentence, raise his shotgun to his shoulder with a certain ease, and pick off the disc before it hit the ground.He was an ordinary man of medium build, with dark hair and dark eyebrows. But he had a kind of antique face: soft features, eyes set a little wide apart, the kind of face one might imagine an American farmer having had a century or two agoand indeed his family had been farming the land on the east side of Seneca Lake for a long time.But most characteristic of him (so that one might not notice other thingsI can't remember what he wore) was a kind of brightness. He had, one might have said, a beautiful radiance: he was a man who saw things, who saw things and understood them.One October evening after we were friends he took me out to the Junius swamps.We stood in waist-high waders in the cold murky water amid the water-rotted trees, some still standing, with the faint pink hands of remnant leaves oating on frail elongated stems up to the surface, some gnawed down by beaver into aking points like palisades. The sky was silver blue with a lm of cloud, but we could see the stars come through in the early dark.We watched the ducks y up in gathered bursts, and tried to see what they were in the half-light, by the pattern of their wing beats, their patches of white. For some reason we didn't bother to shoot at anything.At Christmas that year Bob brought me a wood duck. I had asked him that October night if he had ever seen one.Copyright 2004 by Susan Brind Morrow. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company. Excerpted from Wolves and Honey: A Hidden History of the Natural World by Susan Brind Morrow All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

1 The Wood Duckp. 1
2 The Tree of Lightp. 10
3 Hectorp. 21
4 Garyp. 44
5 An Atmosphere of Sweetnessp. 63
6 Beesp. 85
7 The Silver Forestp. 108