Rich Telford ’14 (MSES) lives just six miles away from Trail Wood in Hampton, Conn., longtime home of the late Edwin Way Teale (1899-1980). When Rich first began exploring public trails on the 168-acre property, he was struck by how few of his neighbors even knew about Teale, one of America’s most accomplished and prolific nature writers.
““I think there was a vague notion that Trail Wood was once the home of an important writer, but not many people remembered him,” Rich says. “This is a guy who wrote dozens of books, who won a Pulitzer Prize and a John Burroughs Medal for distinguished natural history writing. He had a huge impact on a whole generation of readers and naturalists but is largely forgotten now, especially on the national scale.”
Rich believed part of the problem was that Trail Wood, established in 1980 by Teale and his wife Nellie as a Connecticut Audubon Society sanctuary, had little in the way of signage or exhibitory materials to help visitors understand Teale’s contributions to Americans’ understanding of their natural heritage.
Beginning in 1947 Teale and his wife Nellie began a series of road trips investigating American bioregions in different seasons. Their journeys covered 100,000 miles and resulted in a series of four books, often referred to as the American Seasons quartet: North with the Spring, Journey into Summer, Autumn Across America, and Wandering Through Winter, which was awarded the 1966 Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction.
“When Teale died, he left behind a series of unpublished notebooks he called Nature Notes, as well as four 500-page journals specific to Trail Wood,” Rich said. “They include 45-50 years of meticulous notes about natural history observations made during his travels and at home at Trail Wood.”
When Rich enrolled in the GMC master of science program, he already had an idea for his thesis project—to simultaneously revive the sanctuary and Teale’s legacy. He sent some rough notes of his thesis proposal to the Connecticut Audubon Society’s director of Northeast Programs, Sarah Heminway, and they began a collaboration.
Rich’s final thesis was more than an academic exercise—he developed a ten-year revitalization plan for the Trail Wood sanctuary. He credits Laird Christensen (professor of English and director of the master of science in resilient and sustainable communities program) for helping him fashion a thesis project that had real world outcomes.
“I didn’t want to write a strictly academic thesis that just sat on a shelf—I wanted to create something that would have a direct and tangible result, especially because I was doing work that was really needed,” he said.
Rich continues to volunteer with the Connecticut Audubon Society, for whom he directs the Edwin Way Teale Artists-in-Residence at Trail Wood program. In 2014 and in 2015, he was awarded research grants through the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center at the University of Connecticut, where Teale’s extensive papers are archived.
Rich works as an English teacher at Woodstock Academy in Woodstock, Conn., and beginning this fall he’ll be involved in a new project that he hopes will lead a new generation of readers to Teale’s work: He was granted a rare one-year sabbatical by the school to write a book about Teale.
“I think there’s enormous value to the idea of place-based education,” Rich said, reflecting on his GMC experience. “The MSES program gave me an opportunity to effect meaningful change in my own community.”