John R. Nelson

Mr. Forbush and Mr. White

Nonfiction from NER 35.2

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800px-289_Solitary_SandpiperFor a bird-fancier, I was late in getting to Edward Howe Forbush’s three-volume Birds of Massachusetts and Other New England States, published in the 1920s. I assumed that much of Forbush’s work would now be dated, supplanted by fresh scientific knowledge and more scrupulously kept records of the distribution and habits of birds. And the weight of it, fourteen hundred pages in all—that’s a lot of damn bird-lore to lift. But in 2012, when I took on the task of writing a hundredth anniversary history of the Brookline Bird Club (BBC), I knew I could put the man off no longer. The preeminent New England ornithologist of the early twentieth century, he’d been the first speaker at the annual BBC meeting (his stereopticon malfunctioned), and the club had lobbied the Massachusetts legislature to fund publication of his three volumes. In my research his name kept springing up everywhere. One could not write any history of New England birds without looking into Forbush.

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John R. Nelson has contributed to Gettysburg Review, Massachusetts Review, Harvard Review, Harvard Magazine, and various birding magazines in the US and England. His essay “Brolga the Dancing Crane Girl,” on birds and dance, was awarded the Carter Prize for the best nonfiction work published in Shenandoah during the 2011–12 season.