Tranquillity Revisited, by Colonel Harold P. Sheldon
~ Review by Jason S. Dowd
Collecting and reading outdoor literature is a hobby many of us pursue as a means to stay sane between autumns. Some of us take this a step further and seek out authors from the earlier part of the 20th Century, the “Golden Era” of grouse gunning. Not being excluded from the latter bunch, myself, it was only a matter of time until I stumbled across a man that turned out to be one of my favorite authors of the genre, Colonel Harold P. Sheldon.
Colonel Harold Pearl Sheldon (1888 to 1951), a native son of Vermont, is known quite well by some, but for those new to collecting classic hunting literature, his body of work may be overshadowed by some of the bigger names of the era. Growing up in rural New England around the turn of the 19th Century undoubtedly helped foster Sheldon’s love of the outdoors, and after serving with the United States Army during World War I, he went on to make a career of his passion by becoming the Vermont Commissioner of Game in 1921 before being named the Chief United States Game Warden in 1926. He later pulled duty as editor of such publications as The Sportsman, Country Life and Outdoors Magazine, as well as publishing his essays in the form of Tranquillity (1936), Tranquillity Revisited (1945), and Tranquillity Regained (1945).
I first came across Sheldon’s writings in an anthology of upland stories compiled by George Bird Evans entitled The Upland Gunner’s Book. Being a habitual peruser, I am often guilty of scanning through publications such as this and picking out only the titles that really pique my interest, and Sheldon’s essay on a late flight of woodcock entitled Ghost Birds captured my attention right away.
Once engaged in the story, Sheldon’s writings transported me deep into the Vermont hillsides. Before I knew what hit me, I was fighting my way through the alders, senses straining for the sights and sounds of a woodcock flushing in an almost eerie darkness. The muzzle flash from a set of London-made, 12-bore barrels lit up the gloom, and its sharp report shattered the silence. I knew despite the darkness I was in good company.
Sheldon’s ability to allow a cast of characters turn into tried and true friends is what really makes his writings shine. This paired with a backdrop that is painted so vividly that upon completion the story feels more like a first-hand experience than something that was put into print nearly a century ago. The ambiance created within these pages is a true treasure, and in my opinion, something that sets a good author in this genre apart from his peers. Tranquillity is a place that every sportsman or woman interested in classic literature should visit at least once.
Upon your arrival in the quaint village, you will find your time to be quite occupied. You will find yourself in your old crony The Judge’s library sharing a snort of brandy as you clean a well-worn double and discussing the next morning’s plans to chase grouse in the hills on the edge of town. You will feel warmth of the spring sun on a local riverbank as you pander over a selection of dry flies with your good friend The Doctor. You will experience the pain that comes with remembering a woodcock hunt with an old friend that never made it back for another gunning season, and you will most certainly make sure you stay within the good graces of The Dark Haired Lady.
The Good Colonel’s writings have made quite the impression on me, and I hope they move you in the same manner. The next time you are feeling like October could never be further away, keep in mind The Captain always has an extra box of number 8s, and the woodcock flights are always in. Tranquillity is just a few pages away.