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May 13, 2019     Post 104
The Polymath Who Loved Trees

One more history note. We’re launching boats this week so we’ll get afloat in the next Log entry.

Also this Saturday afternoon I will be in Oswego promoting great lake lit at the H. Lee White Marine Museum May 18. Join me for a tale or two from my years of sailing tall and small ships and running charters for 20 years. Be sure to stop by and enter your name for a free copy of my guidebook to public beaches.

Novelists generally write about what they know. However, that doesn’t mean the database has to be entirely first hand experience. Since we can’t time travel we do the next best thing, we read history and look at photos and paintings and try to ‘reconstruct’ the past or invent the future.

Natural history is an interest of mine, so I’m drawn to people of the past who shared that interest. One such person was George Marsh, the inspiration for my imaginary lumber dealer in “Widow Maker”.

Marsh a Vermonter in business back in the 1830s, was quick to note the impacts of deforestation on the stony slopes of that land and the subsequent degradation of its rivers and lakes.

He wrote: Every middle-aged man, who revisits his birthplace after a few years of absence, looks upon another landscape than that which formed the theater of his youthful toils and pleasures . . .the bald and barren hills, the dry beds of the smaller streams, the ravines furrowed out by the torrents of spring . . .seem sad substitutes for the pleasant groves and brooks and broad meadows of his ancient paternal domain. . . .”

Marsh published an influential book in 1864 titled “Man and Nature” that my imaginary character quotes from. It was the “Silent Spring” of its day and still remains in print. Marsh not only noted the connection between forests and clean water. He also was one of the first to write that deforestation could impact climate.

Marsh knew that civilizations could not endure the loss of their trees and soil, and wrote ... yet it is certain that climate itself has in many instances been gradually changed and ameliorated or deteriorated by human action. The draining of swamps and the clearing of forests perceptibly effect the evaporation from the earth, and of course the mean quantity of moisture suspended in the air…

“Man and Nature” helped boost political will for the formation of New York State’s Adirondack Park. Marsh served as a Congressman for three terms and helped the formation of the Smithsonian Institute. He spoke out against war and slavery while serving and wrote that women must be made socially and legally “peers of men”.

In 1849 Marsh was appointed minister to Turkey. He found its milder coastal climate more agreeable than that of his native Vermont where he did not enjoy “hibernating like a badger”. Marsh was fluent in a half dozen languages and served as a diplomat in the Mediterranean region for many years. He died in Italy and is buried in Rome.

If you can’t make it to Oswego find “Widow Maker” on line at Amazon.com and my other works at

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