Monday, September 7, 2009

Hal Borland, Naturalist/Writer

As promised, I'm writing more about Hal Borland, a naturalist/writer best known for his books and his Sunday nature piece on the editorial page of The New York Times for many years.

When Hal was a young boy his parents homesteaded in eastern Colorado, a tale told in his book "High, Wide, and Lonesome." Like most homesteaders, they had a hard life. It was just too much for a couple and their young son to handle. All it took was bad weather or insects to ruin their meager crops and thus their livelihood. In winter his dad would work in town, too far to come home, and Hal and his mother, a cow and a dog endured the winter isolated. He often awoke in the morning with snow covering the foot of his bed. A Christmas treat was a bowl of snow with maple syrup drizzled over it. Thanks to a cowboy who came through occasionally, they had lots of good magazines to read and he learned to write from them. In summer he and his dog spent hours watching a gopher town, the beginning of a lifetime observing nature.

In 1915 his family gave up homesteading and moved to Flagler, Colorado where his father bought and edited the local newspaper. Hal learned the newspaper business from the ground up, and his book, "Country Editor's Boy," tells the story of those years with colorful anecdotes of itinerant typesetters (many alcoholics) who spent periods of time working for his dad. Afterward he went off to college, into journalism, and followed his career east.

He wrote some western novels, quite a few short stories for magazines with his wife Barbara, books about dogs who "chose" to live with them, and many books about the natural world all around us.

I had grown up in a family who never went outdoors unless forced to, but in my late 20s I was introduced to Hal Borland's books which inspired me to get outside and see what he was writing about. I learned to love hiking, camping, and canoeing, and I began to notice the wildlife and plants around my home. He opened a whole new world to me.

His last years were spent in a house by the Housatonic River in northwestern Connecticut near the Massachusetts border. I drove past the house once and saw him riding a mower, but didn't stop because I didn't want to intrude. I've kicked myself ever since. A few years after he died, I wrote a piece for a newspaper in Mass. where he had been a regular columnist about how much I missed him. His widow saw it, wrote me a nice note, and subsequently I went to work for her as an assistant for a couple years. By that time she was an invalid and we worked on a rewrite of one of her novels, more as a way to keep her mind busy in a difficult time than anything. We were bonded by our feelings for Hal.

I owe a great deal to this man I never met. Barbara Borland gave me his candle holder made by Ute Indians that he had known. It is one of my most prized possessions. I encourage anyone to read Hal Borland's books. They are funny, interesting, and educational without being preachy. You'll never view your property the same way again.


  1. I love this post!! Found you when browsing for Hal Borland! I loved all his books!

    Your newest follower from Texas!

  2. Enjoyed this as well. Borland is a gift, but there is almost nothing about him on online. Thanks for sharing.