In our connected world of Google, apps and smart technology, I still find magic in flipping through my Peterson field guide. Roger was born on this day in 1908, and it’s hard to imagine that before 1934 there was no such thing as a field guide. Ornithologists back then used to shoot birds to study them up close, something which Peterson hoped to end through the development of his identification system.
Roger was finishing updating this fifth edition when he passed away on the morning of July 28, 1996. What makes this guide extra special is a reproduction of Roger’s final painting of Flycatchers. He was painting right up to end and even unfinished, these birds are still beautiful to look at.
The forward was written by Robert Bateman who shared some very interesting stories of Roger. Here’s one I really like:
I recall an incident that illustrates Roger’s acute ability to pay attention to nature. We were standing with a group of travelers in a Tokyo park, waiting to tour a nobleman’s house. We were all chatting, and Roger was half-listening to us and totally listening to nature. At a lull in the conversation, he said, “I am not sure, there are either four or five different species of Cicada singing at this moment.” He didn’t know their names, but he distinguished between their songs.
And here’s a story by Roger of his encounter with the legendary bird artist Louis Agassiz Fuertes:
I met Fuertes in 1925. He was the first great one since Audubon, and he gave me one of his own paint brushes. I took it with me to a camp in Maine where I had a summer job. I kept the brush on a shelf, but somehow it rolled off and fell through a crack in the floor. The next year I ripped up the floorboards, but only the handle was there; mice had eaten off all the bristles. In a way, it returned to nature, to a mouse’s nest. My own view of the world is that everything is so interlocked, you cannot separate one thing from another.
As I continue to learn about birds, my admiration for Peterson grows. Along with my bins, pens and sketchbook, the Peterson field guide is always in my bag when I’m on the move...I’d be lost without it.