Published Jan. 19, 2005, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Birder’s interest piqued by book a century old.”
2015 Update: A new online search shows the author’s full name is Lucas Albert Reed. He wrote mainly on religious subjects. Many copies of this book are available online for sale. Read a digitized version, complete with drawings by the author, at https://archive.org/details/mygardenneighbor00reed.
By Barb Gorges
My Garden Neighbors, True Stories of Nature’s Children by L. A. Reed, B.S., M.S., with illustrations by the author, Review and Herald Publishing Association, Washington, D.C., 1911, copyright 1905 by L.A. Reed.
A couple months ago, Edna Hudson called me to see about donating bird books. I found a home for them at the Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory (www.rmbo.org), which will either put them in its library or sell them at a fundraising auction in April.
But one book, the subject of this review, caught my eye and I will either mail it or a check to Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory later. Edna said she bought it for resale at her shop long ago, but had no other information.
My Garden Neighbors, by L.A Reed, is apparently written for children. One of the last pages is in smaller type and is addressed to teachers, giving them study ideas and informing them outdoor study aids body as well as mind.
Then there’s the cover’s patina of hard use. Another clue was stuck between the pages, a certificate for junior membership in the Seventh-Day Adventist Young People’s Society of Missionary Volunteers, dated 1929, for William Archer, Boulder, Colo.
A search of the online used book seller, Alibris, shows two copies in much better shape available for $16 and $37, but no background information available.
With skepticism, I Googled the publisher’s name. What I found is no doubt familiar to some of my friends because Review and Herald has been the publishing house of the Seventh-Day Adventists since the 1850s. They still publish children’s nature literature.
Too close to deadline, I can’t find out more about the author, whom I suspect is a man. For one, it would have been highly unusual in 1905 for a woman to have a Master of Science degree. Plus, even though the stories in each chapter are told in the third person, they are told from the point of view of “the man.”
And while the animals are referred to in that quaintly polite, somewhat anthropomorphic style characteristic of the age, there’s no softening of the reality of nature.
For instance, Mr. Sparrow, after suffering the loss of a leg by slingshot, nearly loses his mate to another male before adapting.
Reed draws parallels to the way animals handle life and the way people could learn from them, but by no means is he as sentimental as other writers for children of the same era. In fact, when the man’s adopted stray cat begins “going to the bad,” killing several birds a day, the man chloroforms it without a sugar-coated euphemism.
In this modern age of effective kitty litter, the man may have been able to keep his cat indoors. However, on other topics he shares a modern birder’s viewpoint. For instance, house sparrows (he calls them English sparrows) are not to be encouraged since they are an invasive species that competes with the natives.
After the twelve chapters of stories about birds, spiders, and other garden neighbors, Reed provides “An Invitation to the Birds.” His admonition against loose cats, red squirrels and house sparrows, and his prescription of tangles of bushes and shrubs, watering places, nesting places and various grains to feed is hardly different from that of modern experts, although, finding hemp seed at the feed store today may be difficult.
Also at the end of the book are individual species descriptions, including range. This is where I thought I might learn what part of the country Reed gardened. First, I had to translate some of the old-fashioned names. I think “The Snowflake” should be revived for the snow bunting.
Reed mentions some other former names such as Summer Yellowbird (yellow warbler), Myrtlebird (yellow-rumped warbler), Cherry Bird (cedar waxwing), Thistlebird (American goldfinch), Chewink (eastern towhee), Firebird (Baltimore oriole), Blue Canary (indigo bunting) and Yellow-Hammer (northern flicker, yellow-shafted race).
Did you know that Lewis and Clark first collected for science what was originally known as the “Louisiana Tanager”, named for the Louisiana Purchase? Now we call it the western tanager.
Reed lists a couple other western species, but I don’t think he did more than travel through the west because he lists the red-breasted nuthatch, white-breasted nuthatch, brown creeper, yellow-breasted chat, and chipping sparrow as eastern-only species. I’m pretty sure they’ve been breeding in Wyoming and the west more than 100 years.
On the other hand, Reed lists the blue jay as being found in North America in general and we know it is a species still expanding its range into the west, though there are other blue-colored jays already here.
More than the change of bird names and distribution in the last hundred years, what is notably different in Reed’s book from our modern lives is the amount of time “the man” has for nature observation. It is explained, “The man’s health had failed, and the doctors had advised him to live more out of doors. That is how he came to have a garden.”
Perhaps we too should take the doctors’ advice and learn to take time to observe such events as construction of a spider’s web—from start to finish. It may be healthful as well as instructive.