Sweet Auburn: The Magazine of the Friends of Mount Auburn An Oasis for Birds and Birders | Page 14

Stories Behind the Stones: “The time of the singing of birds is come” by Bree D. Harvey A granite boulder on Poplar Avenue commemorates one of America’s most significant ornithologists, William Brewster (1851-1919). More than a physical tribute to a remarkable figure, however, this monument also symbolizes Brewster’s love for the natural world and an important lifelong friendship. William Brewster grew up in “the Old House by the Lindens” on Brattle Street, less than a mile away from Mount Auburn’s gates. Reminiscing on the Cambridge he knew as child, Brewster later wrote, …here the dandelions and buttercups were larger and yellower, the daisies whiter and more numerous, the jingling melody of the Bobolinks blither and merrier, the early spring shouting of the Flicker louder and more joyous, and the long-drawn whistle of the Meadowlark sweeter and more plaintive, than they ever have been or ever can be elsewhere, at least in my experience. 1 The fields, farms, meadows, and marshes that existed just beyond Brattle Street provided ample opportunity for Brewster and his childhood friend, Daniel Chester French, to collect eggs, nests, and birds. In an era when the study of birds was still done with a gun, both boys were experts in taxidermy, regularly preparing the specimens they shot in the field. While Daniel Chester French would go on to become one of America’s premier sculptors, Brewster’s childhood interest in birds paved the way for a career in ornithology. Modern-day birders have much for which to thank Brewster. During his long career, he helped to found the Nutall Or- nithological Club (1876) and the American Ornithologists’ Union (1883). He served as a curator of the ornithology collection at Harvard’s Museum of Comparative Zoology, helping to turn the museum’s collection into one of the best in the world, and was selected as the first president of the Massachusetts Audubon Society upon its founding in 1896. A gifted writer, Brewster also published hundreds of papers on ornithological subjects. His Birds of the Cambridge Region, published in 1906 by the Nutall Ornithological Club, was a careful look at local bird populations based upon Brewster’s own observations over a forty-year period. In Birds, Brewster documents the dramatic decline of certain native species, attributing the rapid development of the Cambridge region as a major factor in their demise. Brewster was one of the country’s earliest advocates for the protection of birds and the conservation of their natural habitats. In 1891, he purchased 300 acres in Concord along the Concord River before its forests could be destroyed. 12 | Sweet Auburn Above: Daniel Chester French and William Brewster in The Circle, 1905 (Photo courtesy of the Chapin Library, Williams College, Gift of the National Trust for Historic Preservation/Chester- wood, a National Trust Historic Site, Stockbridge, Massachusetts) He named the acreage October Farm and spent most of the last two decades of his life exploring the property and recording his wildlife observations. These observations were published posthumously as October Farm (1936) and Concord River (1937). Brewster died in Concord in 1919, and was buried in his family’s lot at Mount Auburn, one of the few places in Cambridge still embodying the natural qualities he remem- bered from his childhood. Instrumental in selecting the memorial for Brewster’s grave was his oldest and dearest friend, Daniel Chester French. French, celebrated for his monumental sculptures of Abraham Lincoln (Lincoln Memorial, Washington, D.C.) and John Harvard (Harvard University), and for completing the impressive memorial to sculptor Martin Milmore (Forest Hills Cemetery), chose a much more simple form to comemmorate the naturalist, a granite bolder selected from October Farm. In the Introduction he later penned for Brewster’s posthumously published October Farm, French describes the significance of his friend’s monument best: As we were seated out of doors one perfect summer’s day, with a wide panorama of the Berkshire Hills spread out before us, our talk turned on the question of death, and I recall his dwelling chiefly on his regret that he must sometime leave all the beauty of the world that was so dear to him. I like to think that death has not brought this loss to him, but that the verse of Scripture that is chiseled in the stone that marks his grave in Mount Auburn reads aright, and that, “Lo!, the winter is past, the rains are over and gone; the time of the singing of birds is come.” 2 1 Brewster, William. Birds of the Cambridge Region of Massachusetts. Cambridge: Nuttall Ornithological Club, 1906. 2 Brewster, William. October Farm: From the Concord Journals and Diaries of William Brewster with an Introduction by Daniel Chester French. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1936.