For many years (I promise not to say how many), October first has been a special day in our family, as someone who means a great deal to us was born on that date.

Over the years, the joy of the day has been added to for me by the fact that two people I admire very much, not just for what they have achieved in the public arena, but for the kind of people they are deep down, were also born on October first (in different years).

Please join me as I pay tribute to these three very special people. (Bonus: in the post there are two childhood pictures of one of them…)

Photo of Beverley (Stilborn) Brenna from Beverley’s personal collection. All rights reserved.

This delightful little girl reading a story to her doll has grown up to be a delightful woman who still has that lovely smile, and who now not only reads books but also writes them (she’s also a storyteller). It is as a writer that most of you know her. I’m privileged to know her as a dearly loved cousin. Beverley Brenna is celebrating a special birthday today and I hope you’ll join me in wishing her a very happy day. As my regular readers know, I’ve blogged about her writing often. Today I want to focus on another aspect of her life — her love of nature.

Bev’s parents, who also had a great influence on my life, loved to go out and ramble in the countryside, searching for wildflowers (including rare wild orchids in Waskesiu…); canoeing across Waskesiu Lake to Grey Owl’s Cabin (click here for another canoeist’s account of a more recent trip to that cabin); and through their own enthusiasm and example, teaching their three children (and their nieces) to share their love of the natural world.

This shines through in all Bev’s writing, since there is always an undercurrent of taking joy in nature and of environmental concern in her writings. Just one example from many I could have chosen is taken from the short story Finding Your Voice from Bev’s anthology of varied stories, Something to Hang On To. “Janine remembers how it felt to shout across the water and listen to her voice as it swept all the way to the sunrise and back.” Mmmmmm… that is so evocative and real.

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October 1st is also the birth date of Julie Andrews, a woman whom I have long admired for her innate optimism, her resilience, her work ethic, her love of family, her imagination, as well as her writing and her dramatic and musical talents. When she was growing up, her dad, Ted Wells, imparted to her his deep love for nature, and for noticing the amazing detail in the natural world around us. From her autobiography, Home: A Memoir of My Early Years, “Throughout our childhood, he exposed us to the wonders of nature. One of my earliest memories was his taking me outside to view a large ants’ nest, which he had discovered under a stone while gardening. … we pored over this nest for a good hour or more.”

The book in which this early influence is most evident is The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles, in which the children are urged to look closely, to notice every detail of what is around them, to really see beyond a surface glance. I have celebrated that way of seeing in my blog post about this book, which you may find here.

Ted Wells’ nurturing led to a lifelong love of, and delight in, the natural world for Julie Andrews. In one of the introductory passages in Julie Andrews’ Collection of Poems, Songs, and Lullabies, she mentions a game she played with her own children. It sounds much like the Look and Listen Walks I often exhort people to do, and would be a great way to get children to really notice and celebrate our world. She says, “When I became a parent, I would take my children into the garden and we would play games of ‘discovery’ — what colors, even in the winter, could we spot? What sounds? What smells?” What might you discover if you went into your back garden today?

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I first became aware of Jimmy Carter when he was running for President back in the mid 1970s. I admired him from the get-go, but came to understand and admire him much more deeply when I began reading his books in the 1990s. Most of his books, of course, are focused on politics or diplomacy, or on the Christian faith, but he has also written about his love of, and experiences in, the natural world. Many people know of his diplomatic efforts, his election monitoring around the globe, and his hands-on work with Habitat for Humanity.

Fewer are likely aware that he has climbed mountains such as Kilimanjaro in Africa; as a former farmer, he is still keenly interested in agriculture; and he and his wife Rosalynn are avid birders, often building in time in their international travels to go out with an experienced local birder to search for birds to add to their life lists. Reading his book Sharing Good Times opens one’s eyes to the many facets of this vibrantly active man’s life. It is from a poem in his poetry collection Always A Reckoning that I wish to quote, however. From his poem Light Comes in Turkey Country:

I know the forest on my farm
best at breaking day
when birdcalls seem to draw
the darkness back
that cages me.

Can’t you just feel that cage of darkness and the joy of being released from it by the songs of birds heralding the morning?

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All three of these people have touched my life in a myriad of ways. One is our shared love of the world around us, in all its beauty and its potential. In celebration of these three, and of our natural world, all month my Perfect Picture Book choices will be books that draw children closer to nature, wherever they may find themselves. It seems an apt tribute.

And now, as a bonus for those readers who love Bev’s young adult novel Wild Orchid, which is set in Waskesiu in Prince Albert National Park, Saskatchewan, a photo of Bev, aged 9, dipping her toes into Waskesiu Lake. (Note: the picture of a wild orchid on the cover of Bev’s book was taken by her dad, who was an avid wildflower photographer.)

Photo of Beverley (Stilborn) Brenna. From Bev Brenna’s personal collection. All rights reserved.

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