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Old Mother West Wind, Laughing Brook, and the Stories that Inspired Generations

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The Legacy of Thornton W. Burgess

By Jack Beaudoin

Murph and I had ducked into the woods in Phippsburg around 9:30 a.m., hoping to escape the July heat. No spring chickens, we ambled more than we hiked and only covered a few miles before taking an early lunch break on a mossy slab of granite overlooking a still, shallow pond. Suddenly a handsome blue jay flashed past, screeching madly about our trespass.

Thief!” I said, trying to imitate the jay. Thief! Thief!”

Murph looked at me quizzically. I just shrugged – it was a nostalgic reference to some children’s books I had read 50 years ago – books that had introduced me to the mystery and magic of New England’s woodlands, encouraging me to get out of the house and into the pines surrounding it. Books, in truth, that instilled an ardent desire to become a writer myself.

Never mind,” I said, waving it off.

After lunch, we retraced our steps back toward the car, mostly in silence, as is our habit. But Murph seemed preoccupied, as if trying to remember something he hadn’t thought about in a long time. As we rock-hopped across a narrow brook, he ventured a question.

Since you’re in the business,” he said, do you know anything about juvenile literature?”

Juvenile literature,” I repeated, instantly disliking the term. Only what I’ve read. What about it?”

Well,” he said. I’m planning to part with some books my mother collected for me when I was a boy. She had read them when she was a girl and passed them down to me. Mostly first editions from about a hundred years ago. The first series is by a fellow named Thornton—”

W. Burgess,” I interrupted, finishing the sentence for him. Murph, I’ll buy every single one of them from you.” Read more


Published in the Autumn 2022 issue of Northern Woodlands.

About Northern Woodlands

Northern Woodlands, a quarterly magazine, celebrates northeastern forests and the people who care for them. A fun read with a serious purpose, it’s published by the Center for Northern Woodlands Education, an educational nonprofit located in Lyme, New Hampshire.

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