Fred Bodsworth

Reading of Fred Bodsworth’s death reminded me of three occasions when our paths crossed. The first time was when I was being interviewed for my very first job in publishing, as an editor. “What, exactly, does an editor do?” I asked David Manuel, the man who was considering me. By way of an answer he gave me a copy of his edited manuscript of Fred Bodsworth’s The Sparrow’s Fall. The respectful editing suggestions penciled on this fine novel of a native family surviving in the North (through starvation so harsh that the hunter baits a fishing hook with a slice of his own flesh, to catch a life-saving fish through the ice) so impressed me that I decided that this was what I should do with my life.

The next episode marked a tragic failure on my part. I inherited Fred as an author, and in the early 1970s he was at work on a book that would have made him a household name, possibly another Rachel Carson. His background as a student of nature, and as the author of Last of the Curlews, made him aware of just how important what we now call “the environment” is to all of us. In his own words, quoted in the Globe’s fine obituary by Nora Ryell, “man is an inescapable part of all nature . . . he cannot continue acting and regarding himself as a spectator looking on from somewhere outside.”

That was the vitally important theme of the book he was working on forty years ago. Yet he was such a dedicated scientist and research-driven journalist that as new evidence of the growing environmental crisis kept flooding in, Fred tried to keep up with it, and to incorporate it in his new book. In the process, when he suggested that “There is no away!” to which we can consign harmful products, we thought that we had a title; but in the end, as the book, like the subject, kept on growing, there was no book. And the world was left unaware of what a great environmental thinker Fred Bodsworth was.

But he remained a quiet general enthusiast. I remember him, well into his 80s, toting a bird-sighting scope at Ashbridges Bay, his eyes alight at the prospect of seeing a reported Harlequin Duck. I was sorry to have to report that it had just taken off across the lake for parts unknown.


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