Thursday, March 6, 2014

Journeys Around the Sun: Leonard Hall

In my previous posts, I talked about natural history books that have an almanac structure: Edwin Way Teale’s A Walk Through the Year, Hal Borland’s Twelve Moons of the Year, and Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac. Today, I’m continuing in the same vein, with a book of special interest to Missourians. You probably haven’t heard of this author.

Leonard Hall’s A Journal of the Seasons on an Ozark Farm (1956; reprint, Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1980), like the other books, is arranged chronologically, with a handful of short essays for each month. Hall wrote a regular column about life on his “Possum Trot Farm” (south of Potosi, Missouri) for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and Globe Democrat from 1946 to 1980.

Hall embraces the conservation ethic that Aldo Leopold so eloquently laid out, and his stories of life on a working Ozark cattle farm show a sustainable land ethic in practice. The changing seasons frame the story of a year’s worth of activities and observations, including migrating geese, cattle auctions, hunting and fishing, gardening, hiking, gathering elderberries, pawpaws, and hickory nuts, and butchering hogs.

If you’re not familiar with Leonard Hall, check out his books. I particularly recommend his Stars Upstream: Life Along an Ozark River, about the Current and Jack’s Fork rivers. It’s a classic every Missourian ought to read.

Since I was inspired to write about these books by my late-winter longing for spring, and being on constant watch for signs that springtime is coming, I’ll quote a few sections from Hall’s Journal of the Seasons on an Ozark Farm.

“This is a time of year we could do without. There are gloomy days when I have a profound sympathy for those furbearers which hibernate or for the birds that fly south in autumn. But then comes a snowy morning when the earth might have just been born and the chickadee sings as if it were summer, or a mild evening when the sunset paints the western sky in vivid colors and the young calves chase each other across the pasture with tails high in the air. Then I decide that one way or another, we’ll somehow ‘make it through to grass.’” (“January: The Sun Starts North,” p. 190.)

One of my favorite signs of spring is the sound of spring peepers, tiny peeping frogs that, in full chorus, sound to my ear like thousands of little jingle bells, though they symbolize anything but Christmastime. Here’s Hall’s description:

“When the worst blizzard of winter struck the western states this week, our thermometer at Possum Trot dropped sharply and a hard wind out of the northwest rattled the shutters, sifted in through the storm sash, and set the phone wires to singing. We hurried out in the morning to have a look at the baby calves, but found them galloping about the pasture with tails high in the air as if it were summer. Then on Sunday afternoon the wind dropped to a whisper and the mercury climbed into the fifties again. After supper, when I went to make sure the biddies were safely shut up in the hen house, I heard the first spring peepers singing, down in the pond in the woods.” (“February: Spring Edges Closer,” p. 205.)

And that’s how you always hear the first spring peepers of the season. It will be some supremely welcome warmish day, and you will be walking outside in a light jacket some evening after supper. And suddenly you hear them, jingling away, in some seemingly insignificant little pond in the woods.

Of course, there’s still an excellent chance it may snow and freeze again, but I agree with Hall: “There is something optimistic about the note of the first spring peepers that braces us against the occasional spell of cold weather which may still lie ahead” (p. 206).

Here’s to the birds who are remembering their songs
and the young birds who are tuning up for the first songs of their lives;
the geese honking, winging north on the heels
of warming weather,
and stopping overnight in marshes in gabbling flocks;
and tiny frogs awakening,
slipping out of cold mud,
and perching at the water’s edge
to peep their riot of love songs.

And here’s to the reawakening of the entire green world.


Anonymous said...

I'm loving this series of almanacs, Julianna! I had never heard of Leonard Hall, despite fancying myself a budding Missouri folk enthusiastic. I bow to your expertise. You might also enjoy An Almanac for Moderns by Donald Culross Peattie. I first found it through Art of the Rural ( and find a lot of joy in the science-slanted nature observations. Thanks for sharing!

Julianna Schroeder said...

Thank you for your kind comments, Gasconader. If you're also Tina, it was your comment on one of my previous posts that tipped me off about Peattie's "Almanac for Moderns." I do want to get that book! I'm familiar with Peattie's writing, and I agree it's first-rate. I'm always recommending people read his "A Natural History of Trees of Eastern and Central North America," which is both encyclopedic and amazingly poetic, almost spiritual. After the diagnostic characters and measurements come a description of the soul of each tree, and its effects of the souls of humans. Amazing stuff!

I have a few more almanac-type books to mention, but I've got those on hold temporarily. More to come!

And yes, do read Leonard Hall's work--he was part of a group of Missouri-bred writers well worth knowing.

Thanks again for the tip,

Anonymous said...

I truly enjoy your insightful words :)

Julianna Schroeder said...

Thank you, Anonymous, for *I* enjoy your positive feedback!

My best regards,

Unknown said...

I came across your notes about Leonard Hall while researching for information on his first wife, Frances Mabley Hall. Her mother helped start a girls camp in Doir Count WI, Peninsula State Park that ran from 1916-1948. Francis also ran The Orange Tea House in Fish Creek out of her family's summer home. The camp was called Cp Meenahga. Do you know anything else about Frances? I wonder what she died from-I never see any references to children.

Julianna Schroeder said...

I'm sorry, but I scarcely know anything at all about Leonard Hall and his family. I simply enjoy his writings, and admire him as an accomplished Missouri nature writer. Perhaps another reader might know something and try to contact you--though you haven't provided any contact info. . . . Well, maybe they'll leave a comment here. Good luck!