"Looming Death" (details below)
(Bill) have always loved books about animals. Non-coincidentally,
books were the type of gift frequently given to me on birthdays by my
parents and relatives. I used to read (and later dream) about the
pictures for endless hours. The ones featuring reptiles and
dinosaurs were, of course, the best.
A book I received when I was 5 or 6 years old will always stand out as a special favorite, even though herps of any kind were a very minor part of it. The title is Wild Animals of North America, 1960, published by the National Geographic Society as a volume in their Natural Science Library. It was actually focused on the mammals, but a few snakes crept into several of the pictures, including vivid paintings of a bull snake constricting a ground squirrel and an otter eating a water snake. They were all original paintings of natural action by Walter A. Weber, a gifted NGS staff artist.
One picture in particular grabbed my imagination from the moment I laid eyes on it - a dazzlingly beautiful corn snake sneaking up on a rat nibbling a corn cob under a wood pile (above left). That painting mesmerized me - long did I fantasize about seeing such a creature in the wild!
That beautiful, hard-bound tome was a gift from my godfather, John Taltavall of Colt's Neck, New Jersey. Early on, he recognized my fondness for nature, often fostering it with such books; I still have many of them in my library today. I credit him as a major inspiration to me to read books and learn more about the world through personal exploration. Trying to recreate that image in the photograph (above right), taken in February 2003, was like taking a nostalgia trip!