Gift #729: A tale of two birders

In 1794, a remarkable man journeyed from Paisley Scotland to America.  He settled in Kingsessing, Pennsylvania and became friends with reknown naturalist, William Bartram.  With Bartram’s encouragement this intrepid Scotsman set out to publish an illustrated collection of all the birds in North America.  Over the following decades, he painted 268 species of birds, 26 of which were previously undescribed, and published 9 volumes of American Ornithology, thus earning him the distinguished title “Father of American Ornithology.”


Several birds bear the name of Alexander Wilson in honor of his achievements.

Sixty years later another man named George Donaldson left Paisley for the American continent.  An ardent admirer of Wilson, he too shared a passion for natural history.  His travels brought him to southern Indiana where he bought land and settled.  In his home he displayed his breath-taking collection of curiosities.  Filled with artifacts from ancient civilizations, souvenirs from world-wide travels, and treasures galore from nature, his collection was one of the greatest in the country and people traveled great distances to study it.  He loved nature and possessed an environmental understanding beyond his time.  He refused to let his land be logged (at great financial loss) and kept the old, dead trees as habitat for the woodpeckers he loved.  Unfortunately while he was away on a trip, his home was looted and burned to the ground, and the fabulous treasure was lost in the ashes.  Brokenhearted, the man returned to Scotland in his old age.  This land eventually became Spring Mill State Park; and a tract of virgin forest containing the oldest trees in the state bears his name: Donaldson woods.

The only physical mark Donaldson left upon the landscape he cherished was a single hand-carved monument to his hero, Alexander Wilson.



Weathered by time and the elements, the words on the monument are nearly illegible, and the likeness of Wilson carved in the stone has faded.  But here is a sacred place, a shrine in a cathedral of old trees, the forest always carpeted by leaves.  Here marks an intersection of two lives, two generations that have inspired American naturalists for over 150 years.  Thanks to their lives we can stand in that grove and see the same landscape their eyes beheld – a beautiful forest untouched and uncut, where birds and forest animals live unthreatened.  It is a place so precious, where time stands still and the years between generations blur, where you can hear the voice of God whisper in the wind blowing through the trees, and where I fell in love with my home.  And this is the true legacy of these two men, bound by common passion of landscape and an intense desire to preserve it for us.

Blessings to you,



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1 Response to Gift #729: A tale of two birders

  1. You expressed it beautifully, Sarah. Thank you for sharing this.

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