On the desk beside my keyboard at the moment is a compact-size but robustly-bound book with a heavy, green colored cloth binding, the internal works of which show through where a long-ago family dog – displeased with being left home-alone — sought personal revenge by chewing the corner off an object she knew was close to my heart. What that quickly-forgiven Black Labrador Retriever puppy could not have guessed was that her efforts would actually make that humble, but highly-valued book even more prized by its young, highly-sentimental owner.

The book is titled Canadian Spring, written by Florence Page Jacques, and beautifully illustrated by her gifted husband, the inimitable artist Francis Lee Jacques. Published in 1947 by the publishing house of Harper & Brothers it was a worthy successor to Canoe Country, The Geese Fly High, Birds Across the Sky and the award-winning Snowshoe Country, each of which claimed a place of honor on the book shelf of my two older brothers. The scarred volume I hold has added value because of the hand-written salutation inscribed on the inside title page: Merry Christmas – 1947 – To Albert From Frank.  I was 14 that year and my brother Frank, who passed away in 2016 leaving me the only surviving member of the four Cooper Boys, was my senior by ten years and many books.      

When I returned to my Vermont home from war and married in 1953, this still-pristine volume was among the very few personal items that claimed space in the back of our modest Nash Rambler station wagon as Shirley and I “honey-mooned” our way across the country to my final Air Force duty station on Washington’s Puget Sound. As I admire Jacques’ extraordinary pen & ink sketches all these years after his death, I am reminded of the impact they had on me during the period of my own love affair with pens and ink and a demanding art medium that still beguiles me.

As I face the challenge of “down-sizing” my life in these “golden years”, my lifelong collection of books looms as a pending dread that must be dealt with, at the same time as I am reminded daily of an hierarchy of values which must be considered in deciding what stays and what goes. And to whom!

Then again there is the compounding realization that the acquisition of even more books continues apace; two volumes arrived just this week for which, though, I have a ready explanation. As a very young reader, I became fascinated with books written by Ernest Thompson Seton, a naturalist/writer best known for his Wild Animals I have Known and my favorite, Whab: The Biography of a Grizzly. At the same time, my older brothers introduced me to a large orange cloth-bound tome called Malibu, written and published by Vance Joseph Hoyt in 1931. Later to appear with the title Sequoia, Hoyt’s story was about a deer and its arch enemy a puma who were taken in as newborns and reared by a naturalist who witnessed the coincidental death of their mothers. Only recently did I discover and purchase surviving copies of each. I am reliving the excitement of a ten-year-old as I wend my way through their pages once again. Through them I am able to “relive” an entire experience otherwise lost in the mists of time; I am once again an elementary-school kid, home-bound with a case of measles, and curled up in the privacy of my favorite nook, bathed in the light coming through the bay windows in a seldom-visited corner of the big family home at 2385 Linwood Avenue.

Email Al Cooper at ascooper@infowest.com