Cover image for Mind the gap : the education of a nature writer
Mind the gap : the education of a nature writer
Hay, John, 1915-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Reno : University of Nevada Press, [2004]

Physical Description:
121 pages; 23 cm.
Personal Subject:

Format :


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PS3558.A828 Z47 2004 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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John Hay came only gradually to his calling. In Mind the Gap, which is at once an autobiographical memoir and a commentary on our place in the natural world and the environmental impact of development, Hay recounts his path to becoming a writer and explores the literary and environmental influences that shaped his interest in nature. Born into a respected old-New York family, Hay grew up in upper-class Manhattan and rural New Hampshire, between the rigid proprieties of society and the delicious freedoms he discovered during his outdoor adventures. Travel, education, and his own sensitivity and curiosity helped open the world to him. Shortly after World War II, he moved to a desolate, sandy lot on Cape Cod, part of a tiny community of farmers and small merchants in a region of plunging winds and vast seas. Much of the book concerns Hay's life on the Cape and the wonderment and fascination with which he explored the natural world he discovered there. Addressing subjects as diverse as the annual herring spawn, his friendship with writer Conrad Aiken, resident and migratory birds, local wildlife, his human neighbors, and the complex rhythms of life on the Cape, Hay's vivid, closely observed descriptions of his surroundings support his engaging meditations on nature and our relationship to it. Pondering the difference between what we can know and what remains deeply mysterious in life, Hay says, ""In setting ourselves apart from the rest of living creatures, we fall victim to our own ice-bound conceit. It is only in sharing that we know anything at all."" Hay shares his knowledge generously, and as readers we are thereby vastly enriched. This is an unforgettable book by one of America's most discerning and readable nature writers.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Longtime poet and nature writer Hay offers finely crafted recollections of his evolution as a naturalist. As a child, Hay split his time between a Manhattan brownstone (his father was a curator at the American Museum of Natural History) and the family's New Hampshire farm. A stint at Harvard was followed by a casual apprenticeship with poet Conrad Aiken to learn the art of writing. Hay spent World War II in Army intelligence, stationed in Panama. Adrift after the war, Hay and his wife retreated to Cape Cod near the Aikens, hoping, as he recalls that there, perhaps, in that quiet and neglected part of the earth, with its low trees and deserted ground, I might find the right direction. The Hays encounter Canada geese; ruffed grouse; minnows; marsh grasses; and, of course, the ever-changing Atlantic. All these, and more, become fodder for Hay's many fine books, and, at 89, he is still a student of nature, waiting for more messengers from the gods. Hay's beautiful memoir resonates with intelligence and insight. --Rebecca Maksel Copyright 2004 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

Noted conservationist and nature writer Hay's latest book is rather like a lovely walk in the park with a wise, aging relative-a brief, meditative and occasionally rambling trip that delights and heightens the senses. The son of a well-to-do New York family (his grandfather was Abraham Lincoln's personal secretary), Hay attended boarding schools (where daydreaming earned him the nickname Foggy John), summered in New Hampshire with his family and poked around in the American Museum of Natural History, where his father was a curator. His interest in the natural world, as well as his desire to become a writer, developed slowly but surely. He attended Harvard, became a student and friend of Conrad Aiken and served in WWII. In the more focused and moving second half of the book, Hay turns to his relationship with his adopted environment, Cape Cod, where he and his wife moved to a small plot of land after his discharge from the army. Hay muses on the windswept landscape and its solitary inhabitants, and delights in his interaction with the natural world: "When the sun rolls in over the horizon it shines over the universal society of life without discrimination." Lucid, lithe prose conveys that pleasure well and poignantly considers both nature's eternal power and its vulnerability to human intrusion. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved