DALLAS -- DeWitt Daggett's tapes won't fill a car with pure mountain air or the scent of cedar. But his cassettes recorded by a who's who of nature writers can lift a driver's heart and mind above the sounds of traffic.
Daggett, the founder of Audio Press, grew up in Dallas. He says he got out of geology and into recording America's literature of the land by accident.
The seed for his line of cassettes was sown in 1985 when a college roommate tried selling audio tapes for Christmas.
"We got to thinking," says Daggett. "What else creative could we do with the audio format?"
By 1986, they had the answer -- record the country's leading nature writers reading their works about the land and out-of-doors. Two years later, Daggett was pursuing the tapings full time.
"By pure luck, our entrance into the business coincided with the real beginning of the whole audio-books field," says Daggett. "The first quantitative study of the audio books market was made this past year, and the total sales through all outlets was just shy of $1 billion, which surprised everybody."
Daggett doesn't put out numbers on his company's progress. But in 1990, he told the Rocky Mountain News that his gross sales had risen from $11,000 at the start to $250,000.
"We're growing slowly and steadily within our editorial focus," says Daggett, who does most of the editorial and all the recording work himself. "Electronics is such that I can go anywhere to record. If a writer has an acoustically quiet environment, I go to where they are."
Daggett taped Texas author John Graves reading "From a Limestone Ledge," a series of reflections on life in the limestone hills of north central Texas, at the writer's ranch near
Glen Rose, Texas.
He says Aldo Leopold's conservation classic "Sand County Almanac" is one of his steadiest sellers because it's "such a seminal work about the land and how we relate to it."
Daggett went to Stewart L. Udall's home in Santa Fe, N.M., to record Udall reading Leopold's 12 sketches about monthly changes in the countryside and creatures of a Wisconsin farm.
"In many ways, Leopold is the father of the whole land conservation ethic," Daggett says. "He was one of the founders of the Wilderness Society, which is dedicated to the preservation of wild lands. We knew we wanted to record 'Sand City Almanac,' but with Leopold being long dead, we didn't know who the appropriate reader would be. When we were recording Wallace Stegner, he suggested Udall.
"It was a brilliant suggestion because Udall, throughout his life, has been concerned with environmental issues and was John Kennedy's secretary of the interior. There are a few people who have trouble with Udall's voice because it's not polished, but I think -- as with many of these authors -- you learn a lot subconsciously from the way they intone a phrase."
Daggett's all-time best seller is Edward Abbey's passionate reading of "Freedom and Wilderness." The writer was a relentless critic of America's destruction of its wilderness lands.
"The taping in 1987 proved to be very auspicious," Daggett says. "For Abbey died, somewhat unexpectedly, in 1989, and we have the only recording of his reading from his own works. People are beginning to listen more and more to what he has to say."
Daggett doesn't just produce tapes about the out-of-doors. In August, he and his wife, field geologist Julia Brown, spent three weeks backpacking and rafting in Alaska.