I was very happy to recently receive several emails concerning a wonderful essay written in 1886 by a student graduating from the Coffin School. Two of the author’s grandchildren had happened upon it and shared it with several of their family, friends, and acquaintances.
This essay piqued my interest for several reasons. It was, for one, about birds and obviously my MMA antennae went up. Then, it’s of a historical nature given it was written in April 1886. And then, I am a Coffin School Trustee, wand while the School no longer functions as a school, the Trustees still maintain the building, its archives and collections, and allow other island non-profits and other entities to use the space to varying degrees. It also provide me with another link to the Mitchell family as Maria was given a small observatory that islanders helped to build for her nearby the School and her sister was the language teacher at the Coffin School. Anne Mitchell Macy taught languages at the School for several years and married the school principal, Alfred Macy. And, the library located in one of the spaces is names for their daughter, Frances Mitchell Macy. So, it all comes home to roost for me (haha)!
So I read it with great interest with all those connections being activated and humming. What made it even better is that the two grandchildren asked if the Maria Mitchell Association would like it for its archives because of its topic! I jumped at the chance with great enthusiasm and after a COVID-safe exchange via a car trunk, the MMA is happily in receipt of this little treasure. It serves not just as a historical record of the birds on the island during that time but also of the history of the island and education.
It’s been many decades in the making but it is finally here! I am speaking of Edith Andrews’ new book – Excerpts from a Nantucket Journal.
Edith is an island ornithologist who worked for the Maria Mitchell Association for many, many years starting about 1940 as a nature teacher. She would also serve for many more years as the MMA’s ornithologist, as well as in the Mitchell House as an assistant to the curator and the curator as well. She taught at Nantucket High School and also taught at Miami University and that is just the beginning.
This book is a compilation of some of her journal entries concerning her observations on various island birds with lots of island tidbits and stories as well. Whether you are a birder or not, this is a MUST read! It is incredibly interesting and full of all sorts of wonderful information. I will disclose that I helped Edith to put it together – typing up journal entries and taking dictation, working on getting the photographs in, and putting it together − but I learned so much in the process! I have known Edith since I was maybe ten or younger – first going on a bird walk with her. I am sure the adults rolled their eyes as my brother and I arrived with our parents. But my brother made a big hit with some of his natural specimen finds along the way so I think they wound up being okay with us coming along, we were after all very quiet children. I of course got to know her better as I began to volunteer and then work at the Mitchell House starting when I was 12 (yes, believe it or not, age 12) and even better sitting with her at Ice Pond working on helping her to put the book together. I consider myself a novice in the bird world – my parents bird – but I learned so much with Edith over the last two or so years that we were working on this – and not just about birds. And you will too, when you read this – it is a not to be missed book for birders, ornithologists, locals, visitors, and even people from very far “away.”
You can find the book on the shelves of the MMA’s gift shop (and local stores). You need to learn about and observe the world around you – as Maria Mitchell once said, “We see most when we are most determined to see.” Edith’s book will help you learn, see, and appreciate (and even laugh).
P.S. Tuesday, October 29th is Edith’s 98th birthday!!!!