"The Way of the Woods" and "Field Guide to the Cayuga Lake Region" by Linda Underhill and James Dake


SUGAR MAPLE Acer saccharum, Maple Family  Bark dark brown-gray, furrowed, blocky.  Leaves opposite simple, 2-10″, mostly 5 lobes, pointed, firm.  In autumn, orange-yellow, red. Fruit 1 1/4″ paired seeds with wings.  Try breaking a leaf stem to see the clear sap.  The similar Norway Maple (A. platanoides), often planted in neighborhoods, has milky white sap. — from “Field Guide to the Cayuga Lake Region”

This process of cutting trees and replanting them has gone on several times in the history of the neighborhood.  I can see that in the different ages and type of trees planted along the street.  Many of the newcomers are the non-native Norway maple variety, and despite their hardiness, they don’t look healthy.  It is only the end of August, but already some of them are beginning to lose their leaves. — from “The Way of the Woods”
It is a truism that we people are a part of nature, not just members of a social institution that functions from above trying to exercise control.  We interact with other species in ways that may be more scheming than, say, a woodpecker relating to a cavity in a dead tree trunk.  But the human response encountering “the natural world” — a field of wildflowers, a red fox scampering into the woods —  is basically emotional.  To truly understand the natural environment takes study, a real effort of will and intelligence.  Two new books will help people recognize and comprehend the workings of the world that we didn’t build but which we interact with, for better or worse.  “The Way of the Woods” by Linda Underhill is a book of “journeys through American  forests”.  Ms. Underhill is a native of Pittsburgh.  She and her sculptor husband live in Wellsville, NY and she teaches at Corning Community College.   Her previous book is “The Unequal Hours: Moments of Being in the Natural World”.

Claude Robert Sheffield


Anyone’s life, if lived fully and expressed well, could be molded into good literature.  But few people take the time, nurture the voice and develop the proper distance and self-consciousness to tastefully share their lives in print.  Claude Robert Sheffield is one of those rare individuals.  In at least five books he has written about his childhood and family, his spiritual development, the joys and sorrows of marriage to his beloved Arcenia.  Being a writer is only Mr. Sheffield’s latest occupation.  In his eight decades the Ohio native has been a construction worker, draftsman, designer, architect, construction superintendent in crisis management, as well as a teacher, member of the U.S. Army, graphic and fine artist, preacher and a professional story-teller. http://stream.publicbroadcasting.net/production/mp3/national/local-national-823992.mp3

The most recent of his books is “Two Elderly Women and One Old Man: Stories with Lessons from My Childhood”.  The stories are colorfully illustrated in Sheffield’s painterly style and two CDs accompany the book.  Little Claude Robert is a healthy, active child who is curious about the world and picks up knowledge as easily as he attracts the grime that sends him reluctantly to the tub.  Voices alternate between a juvenile autobiographical narrator – written in the third person – and one or more adults.  Most often we hear from Claude Robert’s grandmother, and her words of wisdom are written in African-American dialect. Ahm gla’ dat yu g’ts uh chuk’l fr’m yo gran’ma’s sow’n’s lit’l fella, caus’ ah har’ly evah heah yu laf’s, n yu sho’ du nee’s ta laf; espes’l at yo s’f; dat b’ gu’d med’cn.  Ahm sho gla’ dat it b’ me dat stari it, fo’ yo gran’pa, now he b’ dun had a fit…
— from the “Grandma Stories and social commentaries”
Claude Robert heard many lessons as a child, but even that good preparation for life did not guarantee an easy path to spiritual maturity.  Guidance for living with strong moral purpose can be deflected by alienation, temptation and countless other negatives.  In “A Pilgrim’s Journey, Mine”, Sheffield personifies the forces one finds while seeking God along life’s journey: Mrs. Kindness, Denial the Attorney, the Right Reverend Mr. Unity, Mr. and Mrs. Follow Along Now and many others. The oldest daughter, “Give Me”, is the second oldest child born to Mr. and Mrs. C. Kindness; she is a large woman with a voracious appetite for things: food, clothes, jewelry, and most of all, attention.  It has been said of her that as a baby she was large for her age and bawled a lot.  Not shedding many tears, but for long periods cried aloud until she was given something, anything to pacify her.  She is seldom personally invited to any occasion by those who know her, and only once by those who don’t. — from “A Pilgrim’s Journey, Mine”
All of Claude Robert’s spiritual strength must have been poured into “RC and her claude robert: learning how to read Arcenia” and “Letters, Notes and Cards to our daughter Casandra Elaine”.  Claude Robert tells of his years with his wife Arcenia (also known as Willie) in a moving book that begins with her death and unfolds back to their first meeting and a final chapter in which they overcome a strain in their relationship by his deliberately learning to read Arcenia’s eyes.