Leonard Dubkin

Pity that few remember this remarkable nature writer.  Most likely due to the oversight of Chicago as a serious literary center by the New York publishing world since the 1920s when he was beginning.  Dubkin specialized in birds, insects and bats in cities, which is, ironically, trendy now.  Googling him yields only a few used bookstores.  Yet he wrote a weekly newspaper column for fifteen years and published seven books.

His best is The White Lady, an incredible account of his discovery of an albino bat in a grotto of overgrown bushes and trees in an abandoned lot, probably on the near west side of Chicago.  He doesn’t tell; it could have been anywhere in the swampy city, but the two branches of the Chicago River meet there, and bats thrive near water.  He watched the birth of the white baby bat from his post at the bottom of the enclosure, looking up at the mother, one of dozens hanging there birthing away.  The white colored head emerging was bright enough in the somber light to catch his eye.  Nature writing rarely gets better. 

The Murmur of Wings, his most popular, has been reprinted several times and most lately by Kessinger Publishing, known for reprinting obscure, hard-to-find literature in large, attractively priced editions. Churchill’s individual books are there, for example.  The Murmur of Wings is sublimely written.  Dubkin combined a sharp eye with a love of nature and an ingenuous style that ennobles each tiny creature.  His stories are as unexpected as his subjects.

One of his last books was an oddity:  Wolf Point, a short yet panoramic history of a tiny island in the Chicago River shadowed then—as now—by skyscrapers.  It seems forced and experimental and, while not bad, ranks lowest among his books, mainly because it’s not about nature.

We are overrun by noisy nature writers these days.  While a few reach for the standards set by Thoreau, Muir and Burroughs, none except Gary Paul Nabhan have come close. They should read Dubkin.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, July 22nd, 2008 at 4:22 pm and is filed under Original Posts. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
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