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The Naming of a Book

My original title for this book came easily after I began to research it: The Legacy of Thornton W. Burgess. The first time I wrote those words, it was as if something had dropped into place, like foundation timbers. Once the work had a name, I was surprised to feel that it seemed more real to me.

The title remained the same for a year or so, and I still like its simplicity. But when drafts began moving off for review, one of my sons suggested that I consider a more elaborate book title.

At the time I was looking at how Burgess acquired information about nature. He often pointed out that as a child, and later as a man, he learned about nature when he was “afield,” meaning he was simply out and about.

I had strong affection for the mental image of this boy, setting off, as I had often done, across a field, through a woods, along a shore, meandering, simply enjoying being outdoors, looking around to see what there was to see that day. No agenda. No plan. Afield to me means free, loosed into nature. So the title became Afield: The Legacy of Thornton W. Burgess.

It felt right, but somehow incomplete. I had an instinctive sense that somewhere I would stumble upon The Perfect Title.

And I did.

One day I was looking through a stack of Burgess essays. Among them was a 1935 article titled “Writing Seven Thousand Articles,” which Thornton Burgess had written for Pictorial Review.

In it he said, “I would rather write for, and talk to, children than to be a bestselling novelist. For the child mine is open and it receives truth without question. And I would rather be Mother Nature’s Ambassador to the Kingdom of Childhood wherein the passing of years means nothing than to be President.”

In an instant I recognized the title of my book: Nature’s Ambassador: The Legacy of Thornton W. Burgess. I have been grateful ever since for the circumstances that put that old yellowed paper into my hands. It is a title that is true and lasting, and it speaks to Thornton Burgess’ dreams and mine.

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