Thank You 2014!

The Rocky Mountain Land Library’s latest newsletter is fresh off the press. Thanks to everyone for making it such an exciting year for the Headwaters-to-Plains Learning Network. We have good news to report, all along the South Platte River! Click here for your copy of the 2014/2015 Newsletter.

We have high hopes for 2015 — please join us in any way you can!

Porch Library 2014: Casey Cruikshank consults Kaufman's Field Guide to Birds of North America. By the end of the day, Casey added a half dozen new birds to the Buffalo Peaks Ranch Bird List (the handy chalkboard posted on the main house's front wall).  photo by Kalen Landow

Porch Library 2014: Casey Cruikshank consults Kaufman’s Field Guide to Birds of North America. By the end of the day, Casey added a half dozen new birds to the Buffalo Peaks Ranch Bird List (our list is posted on the chalkboard behind Casey).                                          photo by Kalen Landow

Biscuits & Books

Hundreds of people toured Buffalo Peaks Ranch this past summer. They finally got to experience the wide-open spaces and incredible skyscape of this historic South Park ranch, established in 1862. For each tour we had a Porch Library set up at the main house, and plenty of dutch-oven biscuits on hand.

We’ll be at it again next spring, and we’ll also begin our first season of renovation, thanks to our long-running partnership with the University of Colorado’s Center for Preservation Research. Join us in 2015, and experience the unfolding next chapter for this wonderful, too long neglected, high mountain ranch!

We hope you enjoy the photos below, many taken by one of the best young photographers we know, Berry Oliver!

Buffalo Peaks Ranch, with Mount Silverheels on the horizon.

Buffalo Peaks Ranch, with Mount Silverheels on the horizon.

Lambing Barn, with shadows across Reineker Ridge. The future home of the Buffalo Peaks Ranch Watershed Library?

Lambing Barn, with shadows across Reineker Ridge. The future home of the Buffalo Peaks Ranch Watershed Library?

A good view of the ranch complex from the east.

A good view of the ranch complex from the east.

With every public tour we set up a small porch library at the Main House. There's nothing like handling a real book!

With every public tour we set up a small porch library at the Main House. There’s nothing like handling a real book!

The Bunkhouse, with Reineker Ridge on the horizon.

The Bunkhouse, with Reineker Ridge on the horizon.

A classic ranch complex: the bunkhouse, maintenance garage, and horse barn along Red Hill.

A classic ranch complex: the bunkhouse, maintenance garage, and horse barn along Red Hill.

Knotty-Pine interior of the Cook's House, just east of the bunkhouse.

Knotty-Pine interior of the Cook’s House, just east of the bunkhouse.

Sinks for the ranch hands, once a busy place in the old bunkhouse.

Sinks for the ranch hands, once a busy place in the old bunkhouse.

The Horse Barn's hayloft: the future home of our Western & Native American Library??

The Horse Barn’s hayloft: the future home of our Western & Native American Library??

The Abeytas, from just up the road, take a moment to sample the porch library.

The Abeytas, from just up the road, take a moment to sample the porch library.

A new Buffalo Peaks Ranch tradition: Ann's dutch oven biscuits, a real highlight of every ranch tour!

A new Buffalo Peaks Ranch tradition: Ann’s dutch oven biscuits, a real highlight of every ranch tour!

Our friend Sherrie York also took several of the photos above. With luck we’ll have Sherrie back next summer to lead an artist workshop or two. You owe it to yourself to explore Sherrie York’s wonderful website. Stay tune for more on Sherrie’s work!

Life is returning to Buffalo Peaks Ranch! We’ll close with a great photo that Sherrie York took while sketching along the banks of the South Platte:

Sherrie's art pack, with the Lambing Barn (and Mount Silverheels) on the horizon.

Sherrie’s art pack, with the Lambing Barn (and Mount Silverheels) on the horizon.


It’s been a very good summer along the Rocky Mountain Land Library’s emerging Headwaters to Plains Network. We are making progress on establishing an inner-city Denver library, one that will celebrate nature-in-the-city, and all the allied fields of urban homesteading.

At our headwaters site (on the banks of the South Platte River) we still have a few more weeks to go in our first summer at Buffalo Peaks Ranch (pictured above). Over two hundred people have toured the ranch in the past few months, seeing first hand the hayloft that will soon be a Western History Library, the beautiful old lambing barn that will house a Natural History Library, and much more

We’re also making room for a special Watershed Library, full of books on water and watersheds. Water has always been one of the central themes of the Land Library, at both ends of the South Platte River. And “thinking like a watershed” seems like one of the very best ways of living on the land — just the right focus for all of us to celebrate the beauties, joys, and responsibilities of living on earth.

powell maploeffler

For us, Jack and Celestia Loeffler’s Thinking Like a Watershed: Voices from the West, is a book we have been waiting for. Through their interviews with writers, historians, farmers, tribal and community leaders, they uncover the resiliency we all need to face the environmental challenges ahead. Often the lessons learned in this book come from the past — from visionaries such as John Wesley Powell, whose Watershed Map (1890-91) is also pictured above.

Our Watershed Library is likely to be in the old gray steel sheds (on the right side of the ranch photo above). It will house wonderful books such as these:


The Platte: Channels in Time by Paul A. Johnsgard, along with many, many river & watershed stories from across the country, such as Daniel McCool’s comprehensive River Republic: The Fall and Rise of America’s Rivers.

As much as we need a Watershed Library today, we will need it even more in the years ahead. Water will surely be a central issue for the next century. That’s one of our motivations to continually add books such as these to our shelves:

Maude Barlow’s Blue Future: Protecting Water for People and the Planet Forever, and one of our all-time favorite water books — this one’s for kids (and adults too): Our World of Water: Children and Water Around the World by Beatrice Hollyer.

We’re always looking for good ways to tell the water story. One way is to tell all the other stories well. For instance, when the Land Library helps tell the story of urban farming, we are also stressing the importance of fresh water. When we celebrate a watershed’s wildlife, we make the strong link to all the ecological benefits water bestows.

Here’s one last book that we especially love — a joyous collection of riparian writings from England:


Caught by the River: A Collection of Words on Water, edited by Jeff Barrett and Robin Turner, featuring Roger Deakin, Chris Yates, Gavin Pretor-Pinney, and Irvine Welsh, among others. This book also includes wonderful imaginative watershed images from artist John Richardson. Every watershed should be the happy subject of words and images such as these!

john richardson

For more on the long ties of water, people and the land, learn about it from the ancient perspective:

– Throughout Time


In the early 1850s Thoreau committed himself more fully than ever to his journal. At the time of his death, he had written two million words in this private storehouse, filling seven thousand pages in forty-seven volumes between October 1837 and November 1861. He came to realize that his most important task was attending the natural phenomena of everyday life, and at one point he half-jokingly complained that his observations were becoming more scientific and less poetic….He created a huge calendar of annual natural events, recording the first blossoming of wildflowers and the return of migrating birds, the emergence of woodchucks and the duration of snowstorms.” — from Michael Sims’ The Adventures of Henry Thoreau

It’s astounding to think of the legacy Henry David Thoreau left us, after only forty-four short years on the earth he loved so well. Thoreau lives on, and he always will on the Land Library’s shelves!

In the past few months we were thrilled to add two more books to our Thoreau collection. Both volumes bring a fresh new Thoreau to our worried age of climate change and nature-deficit disorder. We learn about the always aspiring, sometimes faltering writer (and sharp-eyed naturalist) in Michael Sims’ The Adventures of Henry Thoreau: A Young Man’s Unlikely Path to Walden Pond. Sims’ goal is to “find Henry” rather than “applaud Thoreau”, and that he does. Rebecca Solnit writes: “The closest you’ll ever get to going on a walk with Thoreau is reading this book.”

While Thoreau walked he observed and meticulously recorded nature’s details — to an extent we never fully appreciated until reading Richard Primack’s Walden Warming: Climate Change Come to Thoreau’s Woods (also pictured above). Primack is one of the current-day scientists who are mining Thoreau’s journals and daily logs for clues to the creeping climate crisis we all face. Primack, professor of biology at Walden’s near neighbor, Boston University, writes:

In the past, Thoreau directly called our attention to the issues of protecting nature, ending slavery and unjust war, and the need for simple living. Today his journals and his unfinished calendar of nature can give us further insights. His records of plant flowering times at Walden Pond and in one small town in Massachusetts convey a much larger truth. The changing climate is already affecting the plant life that forms the base of the food web upon all life depends.

And so Thoreau’s legacy takes on an even deeper significance.


A library can’t have too many editions of Thoreau’s classic book, but one of our favorites is Jeffrey Cramer’s annotated Walden. Thoreau is a strong presence at our Waterton Canyon Kids Nature Library too. We especially love Steven Schnur’s Henry David’s House.

No matter where you live, urban or rural, we all have our own Walden Pond. Attention, and devotion, is all!

I frequently tramped eight or ten miles through the deepest snow to keep an appointment with a beech-tree, or a yellow birch, or an old acquaintance among the pines.” from Walden

A Teachable Moment

keeping  beesbees in city

The surge of excellent bee book continues! Here’s two of the best, both from Great Britain, and both focused on the special challenges of beekeeping in the midst of busy city life: Keeping Bees in Towns and Cities by Luke Dixon, and Bees in the City: The Urban Beekeepers Handbook by Alison Benjamin and Brian McCallum.

So, here’s a question inspired by Luke Dixon’s Keeping Bees in Towns and Cities: What would you do if a swarm of bees descended upon your local school??

Small children and bees might not seem an obvious combination, but at Charlton Manor Primary in Greenwich they get on very well. The bees live in hives in the playground of this inner-city London school….

The headmaster, Tim Baker, took up beekeeping when a swarm came and attached itself to a wall next to the school’s main entrance. ‘There was panic from staff and calls to close the school,’ he recalls. ‘The children seemed very interested though. When it was collected I found out that the bees were very unlikely to sting when they swarm. I realized how little I and people around me knew about bees even though we had always taught the children that they were important. I was concerned that the lessons the children had got from that close-hand observation of the swarm was that bees were something to be feared.’ To dispel the message of fear, Tim set about finding training for himself and interested staff so that they could set up a hive on the school grounds.

The Next Generation of Beekeepers on Parade:

beekeepers on parade

There are many flowering plants in neighboring gardens, and there are parks nearby as well, so the bees are not short of forage. As an inner city school many of the pupils do not have access to gardens themselves, so the bees provide an important contact with nature for them….The headmaster is convinced that the bees are of great educational benefit: ‘There are a number of children with behavior issues in the school. They were given the chance to work with the bees. Their behavior has greatly improved and they delivered a talk to the local bee club at its annual general meeting.

Somehow, Bees Aren’t as Scary Anymore:

kids & honey

The school started with one hive, raised queens, and now has two colonies. The honey harvested is bottled by the pupils and sold to raise money for the school.

As a nice bookend to this story, headmaster Tim Baker reports that another swarm arrived recently and everyone took it in stride. Two of the children helped collect the swarm, and the school’s hives grew by one!

There’s a magic about bees — especially their way of connecting people to the natural world. It’s as simple as that. As long as we’re able, the Land Library will honor these books by giving them a home on our shelves. Here’s two more brilliant bee books we’ve added over the past few months:

Bees: A Natural History, by Christopher O’Toole, and from our Waterton Canyon Kids Nature Library, Honey Bees: Letters from the Hive by Stephen Buchmann, an excellent book for young adults, and older readers too.


Robert F. Kennedy called Cesar Chavez “one of the heroic figures of our time.” Chavez founded and led the first successful farm workers union in the country — the United Farm Workers of America– giving migrant workers a voice against a powerful agricultural industry. Throughout his life Chavez fought for social justice, better pay, and safer working conditions. The tools he used were the nonviolent ones of strikes, fasting, and boycotts.

Just in time for this coming Monday’s Cesar Chavez Day is the first comprehensive biography of this visionary leader — Miriam Pawel’s The Crusades of Cesar Chavez. Author Peter Matthiessen, one of the first to write about Chavez, comments: “Miriam Pawel’s new biography, massively researched and expertly written, is a welcome expansion and enrichment of her earlier study, The Union of Their Dreams. Together they represent the definitive story of this charismatic farmworker and controversial leader whose courage and near-genius invigorated the stormy history of American labor.”

Also pictured above: John Gregory Dunne’s insightful look at Chavez and his movement’s first days. Delano: The Story of the California Grape Strike takes us back to September 1965, when Filipino and Mexican American farm workers went on strike against grape growers in Delano, California.

Food, land, and social justice — just a few reasons why the Land Library devotes a full section to the story of Cesar Chavez and the movement he ignited — full of books such as these:

fight in the fieldsvoices from the fieldsmatthiessen

The Fight in the Fields: Cesar Chavez and the Farmworkers Movement by Susan Ferriss & Ricardo Sandoval, Voices from the Fields: Children of Migrant Farmworkers Tell Their Stories by S. Beth Atkins, Sal Si Puedes (Escape if You Can): Cesar Chavez and the New American Revolution by Peter Matthiessen

And here’s a few inspiring titles from our Waterton Canyon Kids Library:

first day grapesharvesting hopecircuit
First Day in Grapes by L. King Perez & Robert Castilla, Harvesting Hope: The Story of Cesar Chavez by Kathleen Krull & Yuyi Morales, The Circuit: Stories from the Life of a Migrant Child by Francisco Jimenez

rooftop large

Here’s the latest addition to the Land Library’s bee & beekeeping collection: Megan Paska’s The Rooftop Beekeeper: A Scrappy Guide to Keeping Urban Honeybees, a perfect introduction to this ancient art, full of great photos and wonderful drawings. Megan Paska has learned her craft in Brooklyn, New York, and she shares lessons learned. Lesson such as this:

…in this book I focus on ‘minimally invasive’ hive management practices. I believe that bees know more about how to be bees than we do. To my mind, facilitating their long-term survival takes precedence over increasing their usefulness as pollinators or producers of a high-value commodity like honey.


…cities can actually be some of the best places to keep a few hives. Unlike keepers living in rural towns, we city dwellers don’t have to worry about pesticides from conventional farms spraying their fields. Rooftop hives also get ample sun and dry out faster after heavy rains; the ability to more easily regulate temperature and humidity means bees with fewer diseases. But more important, at least from my point of view, urban apiaries give city dwellers an opportunity to commune with the natural world in a small but very profound way.” — Megan Paska, from The Rooftop Beekeeper.

No wonder we can’t resist books on bees and beekeeping!

Here’s a couple more from the Land Library’s shelves:

Buzz: Urban Beekeeping and the Power of the Bee by Lisa Jean Moore and Mary Kosut, The Urban Beekeeper: A Year of Bees in the City by Steve Benbow, the practical diary of a beekeeper and his 30 beeyard sites, spread across London, England.

And, from an earlier post, here’s the most beautiful bee book we’ve seen:

Eric Tourneret’s Le Peuple des Abeilles (with a great film clip too).


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