The Living Year, an Almanac for My Survivors, by Mary Q. Steele. New York: William Morrow Company. 109 pages. $6.50.
These jottings about the passage of a year in the Tennessee mountains are like the bird music Mary Q. Steele hears in her backyard hickories and oaks: sometimes high and sweet as a whitethroat whistle, sometimes sad as the mourning notes of a dove.
A writer of children's books, Miss Steele knows how to look at turtles and hummingbirds from fresh perspectives. She helps us see power lines ''beaded with sparrows,'' snakes ''flexible as shadow,'' a spring stream ''curdled with pollen ,'' squids that utter ''harmless oaths of brown ink.'' She gives us satisfying glimpses of a woman who is flattered to be taken for a natural object by a web-spinning basilica spider, a woman who can't resist peering under layers of dead leaves and lifting bark from rotting logs, a woman who loves thrushes and Rimsky-Korsakov, a woman whose children are mortified when she climbs on top of the dollhouse roof to get a better view of a towhee's nest.