Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

In the Steps of John James Audubon

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

In the Steps of John James Audubon

Article excerpt

As part of my work on a film about John James Audubon, I recently rose before dawn, dressed by moonlight, then hiked into the woods of St. Francisville, a small Louisiana community where Audubon once found many of the birds for his famous nature paintings.

Our film crew started the day early for the same reason Audubon did when he trekked through the forests of St. Francisville in the summer of 1821.

Like our bleary-eyed production team, Audubon was trying to escape the seasonal heat and humidity of days that, by midmorning, can seem to wilt body and brain into a tropical funk. Audubon also thrived on early morning walks because many birds are most active at dawn and dusk.

Threading my way through centuries-old stands of beech and magnolia, I often felt that not much had changed since Audubon scoured the area for warblers and wrens, yellowthroats and redstarts, summer tanagers and indigo buntings, vireos and kites, woodpeckers, mockingbirds, and the occasional ibis.

Frequent trills from the dense canopy of limbs that shadowed our footsteps promised that we'd see at least some of the species Audubon had spotted nearly two centuries before.

That's why I'd brought along my binoculars and Peterson Field Guide, hoping in particular to glimpse a few bluebirds between our historical reenactments of Audubon's hunt for specimens.

I couldn't help thinking, as we doused our arms and legs with insect repellent and walked single file along a narrow trail that snaked into the forest, how much better equipped we seemed than Audubon to glean art from the wild.

Audubon would surely have marveled at my binoculars, an optical gadget absent from his period traveling bag. The slender pages of my Peterson guide, a volume now sold at any bookstore, contained more technical truth about birds than Audubon was able to gather in a lifetime. …

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