On a cold, crisp autumn night, a free show unfolds above. M31 is visible in the constellation Andromeda. The whitish smudge is actually a giant galaxy of stars. It’s hard to fathom that the cottony fuzz lies 2.5 million light years away.
Standing atop a hill in the Waldo County town of Troy, the awed stargazer is brought down to Earth by something brushing his pantleg. He looks down. “Don’t move,” he tells his 14-year-old son. “Why?” “Skunk.”
“Jack instinctively bolts and the skunk raises its tail. Oh, man there’s no choice now but to run,” the father relates. “I leap like a cat — even fiftysomething guys like me can jump when push comes to skunk — and we dive into the car.”
Titled “Star-Struck,” the essay is just one of 65 pieces in Maine writer Dana Wilde’s 2011 book “The Other End of the Driveway: An Amateur Naturalist’s Observations in the Maine Woods” (Booklocker.com, $16.95). His lyrical, crisply crafted musings cover a constellation of topics from the quality of October light and the inner life of spiders to winter moons to bluets blooming in the spring.
Wilde, who works as an editor and writes the “Amateur Naturalist” column for the Bangor Daily News, has called Maine home for over half a century. His inquiring mind and scholarly expertise, though, has taken him all over the world. As a Fulbright scholar, he has lived twice in China. He has lectured in Romania and South Korea and taught in Bulgaria and South Africa.
But he has also journeyed widely over the nine or so acres surrounding his log home in Troy. His adventures and misadventures, chronicled through the seasons, are absorbing and entertaining to read any time of the year.
Calling himself an amateur naturalist, Wilde makes no pretense about his lack of scientific credentials and sincerely strives to get his facts straight. But it’s his clear authority and gift with words that will inspire readers to leave the couch and venture outdoors day or night.
The quality of Wilde’s writing — his lyricism, respect for facts and unpretentiousness — are reminiscent of the late Maine Times editor John N. Cole (“In Maine,” 1974) and Milbridge author Sue Hubbell (“A Book of Bees, 1988).
Well-known Hancock author Sanford Phippen recommends reading “The Other End of the Driveway.”
“He [Dana] has taught me a lot. I don’t observe that carefully stuff that is all around us,” related Phippen, who is writing a memoir about witnessing the 1969-71 race riots in Syracuse, N.Y. “He makes it come alive just like artists should do. He makes you look at the world in a different way.”
Like an October morning when he spies a huge garden spider perched upside down in her web above a door eave.
“She’s waiting patiently for a fly or moth to blunder into the circling silk,” he writes in an essay titled “Noiseless and Patient,” capturing the suspenseful moment. “At which point she’ll dash along the cords, seize it with her front legs, paralyze it with her venom-tipped fangs, then truss it with threads. She’ll store it or eat it right them melting it with juices and sucking the remains into her stomach, which acts like a pump.”