By: Richard Telford
The Connecticut Audubon Society is now accepting applications for the 2016 Edwin Way Teale Artists-in-Residence at Trail Wood program. Applicants can submit their materials electronically or in hard copy. Through the program, inaugurated in 2012, Connecticut Audubon invites writers and visual artists, chosen through a juried process, to spend one week in residence at Trail Wood, the former home and private nature sanctuary of Pulitzer prize-winning naturalist writer and photographer Edwin Way Teale and his wife and collaborator Nellie Donovan Teale. The site is now the 168-acre Edwin Way Teale Memorial Sanctuary, bequeathed by the Teales to The Connecticut Audubon Society in 1980 shortly before Edwin’s death. Yankee Magazine in 2013 named Trail Wood as one of Connecticut’s two best nature sanctuaries—the other being Connecticut Audubon’s 700-acre Baflin Sanctuary in Pomfret, which is a ten-minute drive from Trail Wood. Trail Wood still features many of the trails cut by Edwin and Nellie Teale shortly after their arrival in the summer of 1959. These continue to be maintained by Connecticut Audubon Society. The sanctuary, per the Teales’ wishes, is open to the public from dawn until dusk year round.
One month after their move to Trail Wood, Edwin wrote in a July 6, 1959 journal entry, “We have the feeling here that whenever we look out the window there may be something exciting to see. Adventures lie all around us.” Edwin, in his unpublished writings, often referred to Trail Wood as his and Nellie’s “Eden” and their “Promised Land.” He remained there until his death in 1980, and Nellie until hers in 1993. Judy Benson, a science journalist for The Day in New London, Connecticut, and a 2015 residency awardee, wrote a moving account of her experience at Trail Wood. Judy’s experience aptly reflects the unchanged power of the site to foster both contemplation and inspiration in the present time, as it did for the Teales decades ago.
Edwin’s site observations, as well as some of Nellie’s, are thoughtfully documented in the two books he wrote about Trail Wood, A Naturalist Buys an Old Farm (1974) and A Walk Through the Year (1978). Program participants are encouraged to read one or both of these works in order to more fully understand the intent of this program, the site itself, and the important legacy of the Teales. Alexander Brash, president of the Connecticut Audubon Society, notes, “The residency program keeps alive the spirit of Edwin Way Teale, who opened American’s eyes to the small beauties of the natural world and the importance of conservation through close observation and precise writing, both here at home in Connecticut and across the country in his travel books.” That awareness grows more important daily as we contemplate a future shadowed by a changing climate and a younger generation that is growing less and less connected to the natural world.
Of special interest to visiting artists, the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center at the University of Connecticut houses Edwin’s private papers, including four 500-page journals he kept while at Trail Wood. A catalog of the Teale archive can be viewed here. Residency program staff can help arrange a visit to the archive prior to or during the residency period. Trail Wood is open to the public but generally experiences moderate visitorship, allowing a solitary and contemplative experience conducive to the creative process. Edwin’s writing cabin, which was recently restored, is available for use by resident artists. The cabin, which overlooks a one-acre pond the Teales had dug in 1959, was built to match the dimensions of Thoreau’s cabin at Walden Pond. It offered Edwin a working space removed from visitors and the telephone.
While in residence, artists are encouraged to practice their craft in a way that is inspired both by the site’s natural beauty and its important role in American natural history writing. The site contains diverse habitat, including mature eastern forest, abandoned pastureland, a three-acre beaver pond, a year-round running brook, and lowland swamps. The site offers excellent birding opportunities, with 88 species having been identified in the sanctuary. Edwin’s writing study in the main house is still preserved exactly as it was at the time of his death in 1980, per Nellie Teale’s wishes, and CAS staff can provide visiting artists with access to it. Presently, residencies are scheduled only for the summer months. With planned further restoration of the Teale home, an 1806 center-chimney Cape Cod, The Connecticut Audubon Society hopes to expand the residency offerings to a year-round schedule in future years.
After the completion of the residency, participating writers and visual artists are invited to attend a follow-up event, Trail Wood Under the Harvest Moon, held annually on-site in September. At this event, each resident artist is asked to read or present a sample of work completed during the residency and to speak briefly about the residency experience itself. This work can be in process. The residency application can be found here. It provides further explanation of the program and an overview of its logistics. Inquiries about the program can be sent to the program’s coordinator, Connecticut Audubon volunteer Richard Telford, who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He has published a series of articles on or related to Edwin Way Teale and Trail Wood at the Ecotone Exchange, and these articles, available here, may provide helpful background for prospective applicants.