Hal Borland was born on May 14, 1900. I’ve enjoyed returning to his books over the years because of the way he links timeless truths with his observations of the ordinary natural world around him.
His writings don’t call attention to himself and great exploits in exotic places. Instead, they celebrate the wonders and truths of life we can all see everyday, wherever we live.
I wrote a short piece about him for the old Naturewriting site. A reader called my attention to the fact that the essay has lost its link on the new site, so I’m re-posting it here. I hope you’ll find one of his books and enjoy his writing.
Hal Borland–Outdoor Writer
Hal Borland wrote what he liked to think of as his “outdoor editorials” for The New York Times Sunday edition from 1941 until just before his death in 1978. Born on May 14, 1900, on the prairie in Nebraska, he grew up in Colorado, and then moved to New England in 1945. Borland brought to his writing personal life experience with nature, the wisdom and ways of rural America, and an inclusive spirit that brought together readers of diverse backgrounds.
Edwin Way Teale said that Borland’s “books are always like a breath of fresh country air.” Like his Sunday editorials, his outdoor books are essays which follow the seasons through the year: An American Year, Hill Country Harvest, Sundial of the Seasons, Seasons, Hal Borland’s Book of Days, Hal Borland’s Twelve Moons of the Year. Trained as a journalist, his writings report the daily news from the world of nature. When you read one of his essays, you feel like you are experiencing that specific day in nature along with him.
The positive outlook on life in his writing encourages us all to live together harmoniously with nature and each other. In the Twelve Moons essay for April 26 entitled “Obvious as Sunlight” he expresses his philosophy in writing about spring: “It is essentially a philosophy of life, of sentient being. It deals with beginnings and with continuity, and if we look for meanings that is where we can turn…For spring is change and growth and pattern imposing themselves on what we too often think of as random disorder…Here it is, spring, eternally new, eternally hopeful. And here we are, participating in a season which, year after year, gives the lie to all philosophies of chaos and futility.”
In his introduction to Twelve Moons, Hal Borland wrote that his essays in The Times served as “reminders that there is a countryside beyond the city streets.” Although all his essays describe and celebrate the natural world, he acknowledged that “some of them reflect my disenchantment with man’s belief that he owns the earth and must dominate everything and everywhere,” a theme that he also dealt with in his novels.
Mr. Borland also wrote four novels that include theme of nature and human’s relationship with nature. His most famous fiction is When Legends Die. The novel tells the story of Tom, a Ute Indian boy who is raised in the wilderness by his parents. They die when he is still young, so he adopts the old Ute ways, builds a lodge for himself, and lives off the land. However, neither the Utes nor the whites will leave him alone. Men from both communities use him for their own gain. Finally he returns to the mountains where he rediscovers himself and his roots. Other novels he wrote are The Amulet, The Seventh Winter, and King of Squaw Mountain.
Hal Borland and his wife, Barbara Dodge Borland, lived on a 100 acre farm, the site of an old Indian village in northwestern Connecticut. Mrs. Borland was also a writer and assisted her husband in his writing. Mr. Borland wrote many magazine articles, poems, essays, and stories as well as his many books. He was also a contributing editor for Audubon Magazine. He published his memoirs in High, Wide, and Lonesome.
[This essay is available as a PDF file: Hal Borland--Outdoor Writer]