Any time you buy a used book, you are acquiring a secret history. Whose book was this? Why did they decide they no longer wanted it? How and why did they get the book in the first place? Did they read it, and, if so, did they enjoy it?
Sometimes there are hints to the answers to these questions in the book itself.
I picked up a copy of The Twelve Seasons, by Joseph Wood Krutch, a few weeks ago at our local used bookstore. There is no date on this edition of the book, but it has no bar code so was published prior to 1978. It looks more like a late 1950s or early 1960s trade paperback. Originally published in 1949, the book was Krutch’s first foray into nature writing, the genre for which he would ultimately become best known.
The book is composed of 12 essays, one for each month of the year, beginning with April, wherein Krutch extolls the wonder of spring peepers — those tiny frogs whose mighty chorus emenates from wetlands, heralding in the genuine start of spring.
There is an inscription at the front of the book, dated March of 2020:
To the lover of spring peepers, and my best brother, who showed me my 1st spring peeper. Happy 80th birthday! Much love.
This book was given as a gift just two and a half years ago, but was already in the used book store. This suggests a sad ending, as it is hard for me to reconcile shedding a gift that was so carefully chosen by a loved one — perhaps by someone with limited financial wherewithall, as it was used when she acquired it. So it seems Krutch’s work was no longer wanted or needed by the lucky brother who received it. Has he died, or perhaps dementia limits his reading?
Maybe he was forced to move into residential care and his children pared down his belongings, not aware that this book had any significance. Whatever really happened, it seems evident he will no longer be listening for spring peepers in April.
While I will never know the truth, this small glimpse of a backstory endows the The Twelve Seasons — not just the work in general, but this specific copy — with special poignancy. It makes me feel I should treasure the book, as the person who received it no longer can.
There is enough wisdom and beauty in Krtuch’s words to make this easy for me. And I still look forward to hearing the peepers in the spring.
The music of the spheres is a myth; to say that the heavens rejoice is a pathetic fallacy; but there is no missing the rejoicings of the marsh and no denying that they are something shared. Under the stars we feel alone but by the pond side we have company.
— Joseph Wood Krutch