by James D. Witmer
Well, the days are getting shorter, and even those of us who are long freed from school find our schedules more regimented, our time outdoors more restricted. Don’t get me wrong – there’s still a lot of time, and a lot to do outside. (You gardeners won’t start planting spring bulbs for another couple months!)
But the change of seasons has me thinking about academic-type stuff, and the first things to come to mind are memories of reading Jim Kjelgaard’s young adult novels – as many as I could get my hands on.
Kjelgaard grew up in the mountains of north-central Pennsylvania, a very short distance from where I grew up. But he lived years before me, before the hill towns were tamed – or even paved. Hunting and fishing were still a serious means of putting food on the table, and a boy could play hooky to go fishing every day for a week before the teacher called his parents. (I’ve read that Jim got in real trouble for that one!)
When he grew up, Jim Kjelgaard became a writer, and he wrote mostly stories about boys and dogs, or men and their dogs – making a living on the edge where civilization meets nature. His pages are alive with the sounds, sights and even smells of the outdoors. They also count by now (he wrote many of them in the 1950s) as historical fiction, opening a door into a different, simpler, and more rugged world.
Big Red is probably his best-known book. Although arguably not his magnum opus, it may be the easiest to find in print. If you know a young person in need of a good book, or an older person who would enjoy a light-but-well-written novel, I encourage you to investigate Jim Kjelgaard. You’ll be giving more than a book – you’ll be giving a chance to fall in love with the crisp autum air that calls us out to the woods or garden.
Earth Sun Moon won’t profit in any way from more people reading Jim Kjelgaard, but I think you will, just like I did years ago.
Summer may be over, and you may have some reading to do, but please,
– Don’t stay indoors!