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Original Issue


The wrong people tend to read books like this one: A Conscious Stillness, by Ann Zwinger and Edwin Way Teale (Harper & Row, $18.95). These people know all about Teale, distinguished naturalist, Pulitzer Prizewinner, founder and past president of the Thoreau Society; and about Zwinger, author of four superb books about the West and winner of the John Burroughs Medal in 1976. Just the subtitle of this slender volume, Two Naturalists on Thoreau's Rivers, obliges them to buy and enjoy it.

And that's too bad: This book was written for you, who never read a "nature" book in your life. You'll love it. Its design is simple. Zwinger and Teale canoed and walked the length of two rivers, the Sudbury and the Assabet, which rise in adjoining swamps in southeastern Massachusetts and then take wildly disparate paths through Thoreau country until they meet to form the Concord. If Stillness were no more than their account of this journey—neither river is more than 30-odd miles long—it still would be a marvel of nature writing. But it is so much more.

Indefatigable researchers, Teale and Zwinger reveal much of the historic richness of this area as they paddle by its landmarks and stop to uncover its long-buried treasures. They tell how 25-year-old General Harry Knox dragged 60 cannons 300 miles in muddy, icy winter from Ticonderoga to Boston to save that city from the British in 1776; how two young women, caught in the open away from their garrison house, faced the fearsome trial of an Indian raid; how the first water pollution laws, the first post road and the first mail runs were established, all in the 1600s; how the land and the people became what they are today.

This was Teale's last book before he died; it is a glorious memorial. Only one thing mars it. His fine photographs and Zwinger's faithful sketches and maps are presented in black and white. They, and we, deserve the full color that distinguishes the prose.