On Top of our Winter Reading Stack

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It’s probably safe to bet that no other author has more books in the Rocky Mountain Land Library’s collection than Wendell Berry. It’s always a thrill when a new Wendell Berry book of essays, poetry or fiction is published. His latest collection of essays, stories and poems has just arrived, The Art of Loading Brush. Our winter reading has begun!

Here’s two more Wendell Berry books, published over the last year:

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The World Ending Fire, Paul Kingsnorth’s wonderful selection has already been published in Great Britain, and soon will be in the States. It contains an excellent Berry essay, A Native Hill, one of our all-time favorites, and a perfect place to begin exploring his work.

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Wendell Berry’s poetry could easily fill a shelf or two, and this is his latest, a new edition of Roots to the Earth: Poems and a Story.

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An early photo of Wendell Berry and his wife Tanya at their farm’s kitchen table.

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Wendell Berry, essayist, novelist, and poet, has been honored with the T. S. Eliot Prize, the Aiken Taylor Award for poetry, the John Hay Award of the Orion Society, and the Richard C. Holbrooke Distinguished Achievement Award of the Dayton Literary Peace Prize, among others. In 2010, he was awarded the National Humanities Medal by Barack Obama, and in 2016, he was the recipient of the Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Book Critics Circle. He is also a fellow of the Academy of Arts and Sciences. Wendell lives with his wife, Tanya Berry, on their farm in Henry County, Kentucky.

For more on Wendell Berry’s life and work be sure to visit The Berry Center‘s website!

 

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Stanza Stones, a Project We Love

Back in 2012, a unique project began to take shape in England’s Pennine Mountains. Poet Simon Armitage was commissioned by the Ilkley Literary Festival to write six poems based on his Pennine walks. Simon didn’t realize it at the time, but that was the start of what would become the Stanza Stones Poetry Trail.

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Inspired by the ancient landscape, Simon Armitage would eventually collaborate with a master letter carver, Pip Hall, to create a trail of poems placed across the moors. Each poem was carved into existing or introduced stones. As Armitage explains, people have visited this region for many thousands of years “to offer their prayers and express their desires in the form of carved stones and man-made formations.” If done right, he reasoned, the chiseled poems should fit in to this storied landscape.

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“The stones could be thought of as sites in their own right, literal landmarks, places to visit. Or they could be marker posts along the invisible route of the watershed.” — Simon Armitage

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At first, the subject of the poems alluded Simon Armitage, but then the project gained a real focus. Armitage writes: “After another visit to the hills, this time in lashing rain, I came back with a different idea and a single purpose. To let water be the overall subject: the water that sculpted the valleys, the water that powered the industries, the water we take for granted.” And so, the Stanza Stones Poetry Trail is made up of six poems, and six sites spread over 47 miles of the Pennine highlands: Snow, Rain, Mist, Dew, Puddle, Beck (a mountain stream).

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“Streams, reservoirs and waterfalls punctuate the journey, reminding the walker of how water shapes and animates the whole South Pennines.” — Tom Lonsdale, landscape architect, and adviser to the Stanza Stones project
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“Especially surprising and delightful to me is the colour of the cut rock, and its contrast with the weathered surface, which varies from pale honey in peaty chocolate, and silver in mottled blue-grey, to a glowing rufous gold in purple umber.” — Pip Hall, master letter carver

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Eventually, each poem, and each stone, found there way into this wonderful book. Stanza Stones also describes the creative course of the entire project, one that was extremely well thought out, but one that remained flexible — always listening to what the landscape had to tell.

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For more on the Stanza Stones Project, we hope you enjoy this short film clip!

Touching Words

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Whenever we find a copy of this wonderful book, we quickly add it to the Land Library’s collection.  The Language of Nature : Poetry in Library and Zoo Collaborations sprang from a project conceived by the Poets House of New York City. In select cities across the country poetry installations were discreetly added to local zoos — all in the hopes of raising people’s awareness of the natural world.

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In Beauty May I Walk — Navajo

Or, as Sandra Alcosser writes, poetry was being used as a catalyst for building vital communities. Along with Alcosser, The Language of Conservation features essays from poets such as Joseph Bruchac, Alison Hawthorne Deming, Mark Doty, and Pattiann Rogers. This inspiring book also offers many practical hints on how to launch similar projects in your own community.

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Elk Song — Linda Hogan

Lee Briccetti, Executive Director of Poets House, captured the true genius of this project:

“Millions of people throughout the country encountered the poems at zoos — fragments; full texts; poems in translation from all over the world, often from the place of origin of the animals. In exit interviews, we learned that visitors could remember many of the lines of poetry and that their conservation IQ was actually raised….but that they did not always know that what they liked was poetry.

This confirmed what Poets House had learned from years of work with public libraries and their communities: when people experience poetry, they are often surprised and delighted. But if you tell them that it is coming, they get nervous.” — from Lee Briccetti’s foreword to The Poetic Species : A Conversation with Edward O. Wilson and Robert Hass

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“The arts somehow remind us of our kinship with all other life, and with the mortality of other life — the ephemeral, precious nature of every other form of life.” — W.S. Merwin, foreword to The Language of Conservation

Wisdom Sits in Places

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Working with the Rocky Mountain Land Library’s collection frequently provides us a sudden surge of remembrance, recalling favorite books from many years ago.

Books such as Keith Basso’s Wisdom Sits in Places: Landscape and Language Among the Western Apache. Anthropologist Keith Basso lived and worked with the Western Apache for fifteen years when an elder asked him to make a map. “Not whitemen’s maps, we’ve got plenty of them, but Apache maps with Apache places and names. We could use them. Find out something about how we know our country.”

Basso took to the task and learned more than any one map could convey. As one of his Apache friends told him: “Wisdom sits in places. It’s like water that never dries up. You need to drink water to stay alive don’t you? Well you also need to drink from places. You must remember what happened at them long ago…then your mind will become smoother and stronger…”

Basso’s simple words speak volumes. This is a classic work on the power of place.

A Sampling of Apache Place-names

from Wisdom Sits in Places

Trail Goes Down Between Two Hills, Slender Red Rock Ridge, Eagle Hurtles Down, Whiteness Spreads out Descending to Water, Juniper Tree Stands Alone, Line of Blue Below Rocks, Big Cottonwood Trees Stand Here and There, Flakes of Mica Float Out.

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Water Flows Inward under a Cottonwood Tree

The Gift of Time and Space

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From the very beginning, a key element to the Rocky Mountain Land Library’s vision has been the creation of a residential library, a place where people can come and stay for as long as they like, prolonging their exploration of the books, and the surrounding lands.

Author and naturalist Henry Beston built such a place in 1925 (pictured above). The time he spent at his tiny dune shack was the inspiration for a true natural history classic, The Outermost House: A Year of Life on the Great Beach of Cape Cod. Over the years, literary pilgrims flocked to Beston’s simple shack, until it was finally claimed by the sea in the Great Blizzard of February 1978. The shack was so close to the ocean that Beston once commented on its ten windows and immediate views of the Atlantic — so close that he felt as if he were aboard a ship.

Here’s a book that has long fueled our hopes to create simple quiet places that will give people the gift of time and uncluttered space. Alex Johnson’s Shedworking: The Alternative Workplace Revolution is full of ingenious huts from around the world. (For more information, visit Alex’s excellent site, www.shedworking.co.uk).

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We especially loved his chapter on the history of huts for writers, artists, musicians, and the like. Here’s just a few writing huts that we were inspired by:

Four Walls, Endless Creativity, and a Scandalous Number of Chocolate Bars:

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Roald Dahl wrote many of his books in a small hut at his home at Great Missenden in Buckinghamshire, England. Alex Johnson: “Dahl settled himself into a rather ancient wingback armchair, covered his legs with a rug on which he nested a large roll of corrugated paper and then his writing board. He pinned a variety of photographs and drawings onto the walls and on a table by his side he kept a personal cabinet of curiosities including one of his own arthritic hip bones and a large ball made of used silver wrappers from chocolate bars. Dahl wrote without interruption every day in what he regarded as a sanctuary from the outside world…”

A Philosopher’s Hut in the Black Forest Mountains:

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Alex Johnson: “Was it the snow that attracted controversial German philosopher Martin Heidegger to his hut? Anybody who is unconvinced that working in a garden office can be life changing should read Heidegger’s Hut by Adam Sharr, in which the author looks at how Heidegger’s wooden hut near Todtnauberg in the Black Mountains of Germany is absolutely central to his philosophy and writings.”

Huck’s Hut: The Writing Shed Where Huckleberry Finn Was Born:

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When Mark Twain moved to Elmira in New York State in 1874, his sister-in-law built him an octagonal one-room shed studio, which Twain loved. Alex Johnson: “‘It is a cosy nest,’ he wrote, ‘with just room in it for a sofa and a table and three or four chairs….And when the storms sweep down the remote valley and the lightning flashes above the hills beyond, and the rain beats upon the roof over my head, imagine the luxury of it!’ Twain wrote some of his most famous works in his shed including The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.”

Dylan Thomas’ Wordsplashed Hut:

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Dylan Thomas had a cliff-top writing shed on the Carmartenshire coast of Wales. Alex Johnson: “In a typical working day Thomas would read, visit his parents, nip out for a drink at noon, then work and relax in what he called his ‘long tongued water and tree room on the cliff’, his ‘bard’s bothy’, and his ‘wordsplashed hut’ until 7pm.”

Michael Pollan’s Homage to a Little Cabin at Walden Pond:

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Taking inspiration from Henry David Thoreau, among others, author Michael Pollan set about designing and building a tiny book-lined retreat on his Connecticut property, as described in his book A Place of My Own.

Forget About the Nobel Prize, This is Good Enough for Popular Mechanics!

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Alex Johnson describes George Bernard Shaw’s whirling dervish of a hut: “It had a revolving base which used castors on a circular track. The hut, at his home in Shaw’s Corner, Ayot St. Lawrence, Hertfordshire, could thus be moved to improve the light or change the view (or indeed just for a bit of exercise).

Finally, we have to to share this passage from Alex Johnson’s Shedworking, so evocative of everyone’s desire for a room of one’s own, no matter what your age:

“Small spaces in general have a magical attraction in childhood….I loved spending time in the cupboard under the stairs of the first house I lived in as well as in the shed in the garden my parents helped to make using any old bits of wood lying around….I vividly remember the first time I stayed out there during a rainstorm, reveling in my spectacular luck at being able to read Tintin in my own little hideaway and not get wet.”

Assume the Stillness of a Tree

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J.A. Baker spent ten years observing the peregrines along the east coast of England. His obsession yielded a mountain of field notes and this classic study of a most elusive bird. The Peregrine is also one of the most unusual (and memorable) books we have on the Land Library’s shelves. Barry Lopez sums it up perfectly when he wrote that Baker’s book was “one of the most beautifully written, carefully observed, and evocative wildlife accounts I have ever read.”

As you read The Peregrine it’s almost impossible not to slow down, re-read, and copy down passages. Here’s one of our favorites, on the simple art of watching:

“To be recognized and accepted by a peregrine you must wear the same clothes, travel by the same way, perform actions in the same order. Like all birds it fears the unpredictable. Enter and leave the same fields at the same time each day, soothe the hawk from its wildness by a ritual of behavior as invariable as its own. Hood the glare of your eye, hide the white tremor of the hands, shade the stark reflecting face, assume the stillness of a tree.

Just today, we came across this exciting new book from one of our all-time favorite publishers, Little Toller:

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Hetty Saunders gives us the first biography of one of the most remarkable writers of the past century. As Saunders mentions in the video below, Baker was an ordinary man living an ordinary life, and yet he produced a book like no other!

Next to nothing was known about Baker, who died in 1987, until an archive of his materials was brought together and given to the University of Essex in 2013. Hetty Saunder’s new book contains many photographs from the J A Baker Archive, along with images from his notebooks, journals and annotated maps. Christopher Matthews has also supplied a photo essay of Baker’s favorite landscapes. Robert Macfarlane, who wrote on J.A. Baker in The Wild Places (another of our favorites) provides the foreword.

My House of Sky: the Life of J.A. Baker will be published on October 25th

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From the Baker Archives at the University of Essex

 

Fused by Heat and Steam

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“The Finnish sauna is often a modest structure, made of wood and stone. Over time the wood rots, the stones crack, and finally all that is left are memories. But what memories! I can’t think of any human activity except eating that brings people together with such wholeness. Mind, body, and spirit are fused by the heat and steam, and we are collectively reminded of all the things that make us uniquely human. Author Michael Nordskog and photographer Aaron W. Hautala have created a fitting tribute to the great sauna tradition of northern Minnesota. The Opposite of Cold makes permanent the fleeting memories of the early Finnish immigrants and the generations that followed. This is an important work and it honors everything it touches.” — Mikkel Aaland, author of Sweat

Why do we love this book? Well, certainly for all the reasons Mikkel Aaland eloquently expresses above, but there’s more. The Opposite of Cold: The Northwoods Finnish Sauna Tradition also provides a nice counterpoint to the notion that any corner of America is like any other corner of America. This book celebrates a unique enduring tradition of what has been imaginatively described as our Northern sauna belt. Not only that, but Aaron Hautala’s photographs have also captured a wonderfully functional and beautiful folk architecture.

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Starting with the surviving saunas from immigrant homesteads, The Opposite of Cold commemorates the history, culture, and practice of the Finnish sauna in the northwoods — and for that reason alone, we found this book to be as stimulating as 180-degree steam heat, followed by a wild jump in an ice-cold lake.

Here’s a few more books from the Land Library’s shelves that celebrate regional diversity, cultural traditions, and simple buildings done well!

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The Sauna: A Complete Guide to the Construction, Use, and Benefits of the Finnish Bath by Rob Roy, and Vernacular Architecture by Henry Glassie (one of the touchstone books in the Land Library’s architecture collection)

For more on Finnish vernacular architecture,  here is a wonderful book from a great photographer of the North Country:

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Testaments in Wood: Finnish Log Structures in Embarrass Minnesota by Wayne Gudmundson

For more on The Opposite of Cold & the Finnish Sauna Tradition, take a look at this short video!

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