Our First Star Night at the Ranch!

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The Milky Way, above the Main House at Buffalo Peaks Ranch. (photo taken by 2015 HistoriCorps volunteer Larry Glass)

Taking full advantage of South Park’s dark skies, on July 9th we will be hosting the first of many Star Nights at Buffalo Peaks Ranch. Join astronomy author Jeff Kanipe for a telescopic tour of the summer sky, including the Moon, Jupiter, Saturn, star clusters, and the billowy star clouds of the Milky Way.

Join us for this fun and informative night under the stars (weather permitting of course). Lodgings are available at several Fairplay motels just 15 minutes away, or come early and pitch your tent at the ranch! Snacks and hot drinks will be provided during star gazing, along with coffee and dutch oven biscuits in the morning.

For more on the Star Night fee, and how to register, click here!

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Jeff Kanipe is the author of numerous books on astronomy, including A Skywatcher’s Year, Chasing Hubble’s Shadows, The Cosmic Connection, along with his recent effort, a multivolume guide to celestial objects, Annals of the Deep Sky.

We have many more Summer Ranch Programs coming up; everything from the geology of South Park, to nature drawing, and haiku poetry. For more on what’s ahead, here’s our Summer 2016 schedule!

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Worlds above and worlds below. With special thanks to Larry Glass for his terrific nightime shots at Buffalo Peaks Ranch!

A Hard Beauty and the Strong Bonds of Respect

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“Palani Mohan first made contact in 2013, sending me a selection of photographs from his numerous trips to the Altai Mountains in the far western reaches of Mongolia. It is a vast and unforgiving landscape, where temperatures routinely drop to minus forty degrees celsius in winter, and where the skies are filled with forbidding lenticular cloud formations. During the long winters the burkitshi (eagle-hunters) leave their homes with horse and eagle, and head into the mountains to hunt for several days at a time. Palani’s photographs struck me as forcefully as conveying not only the hard beauty of this wild and seemingly empty terrain, but also, more significantly, the intense relationship that the hunter forges with his eagle. It is this bond of mutual respect and trust that defines the life of the burkitshi and gives it profound meaning.” — Hugh Merrell, from the foreword.

With over eighty doutone images, Hunting with Eagles: In the Realm of the Mongolian Kazakhs is one of the most visually stunning books the Land Library has seen in a very long time. As award-winning photographer Palani Mohan explains in his introduction, this is a culture under threat. There are no more than fifty hunters left, and that alone motivated Mohan to record this unique relationship between man and bird.

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The golden eagle is a perfect predator, with an awe-inspiring wingspan, a beak built to rend flesh, and talons that can kill prey instantly by piercing the heart. A fox is easy prey, and when hunting in pairs, eagles are capable of bringing down a wolf — Palani Mohan

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“Madina, a 63-year old Kazakh wearing a fox-skin coat, cradles his six-year old eagle in his arms. ‘They love to be carried in such a way. It makes them feel loved and relaxes them, just like a baby‘, he told me.”

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“Even though the eagles are kept in the hunters’ homes, they remain wild birds with a finely honed killer instinct.”

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“I sat in a rocky crevice and found myself listening to the wind roaring around the contours of the mountains and whipping the grass, ever-changing in tone and volume, and becoming deafening at times. As the hours wore on, I thought about everything but also nothing, and felt utterly at peace. With only nature’s symphony and my silent guide for company, I experienced one of the most memorable moments of my time in Mongolia.”

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Palani Mohan’s work has appeared in the pages of National Geographic, and he is also the author of Vanishing Giants: Elephants of Asia. For much more, please visit Palani Mohan’s website!

And here’s two related books from the Land Library’s collection:
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Both by naturalist Stephen Bodio: An Eternity of Eagles, a natural and cultural history of eagles across the globe, and Bodio’s own field report from the land of the Kazakhs: Eagle Dreams: Searching for Legends in Wild Mongolia.

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Many years ago, Colorado ecologist David Cooper compared the high mountain grasslands of South Park to the steppes of Mongolia. With Buffalo Peaks Ranch (the Land Library’s headwaters site) located in the middle of South Park, no wonder we keep adding Mongolian books to our collection. They are some of our favorite books!

Touching Words

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Here are two inspiring books on absolutely brilliant projects that celebrate both words and nature. 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, in other words, poetry was being used as a catalyst for building vital communities, to borrow Sandra Alcosser’s phrase. Along with Alcosser, The Language of Conservation features essays from poets such as Joseph Bruchac, Alison Hawthorne Deming, Mark Doty, and Pattiann Rogers, along with 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
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Back in 2012, a kindred project began 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 (pictured above) would eventually collaborate with a master letter carver, Pip Hall, to create a trail of poems sited across the moors, and 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, 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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For more on the Stanza Stones Project, and to read all six of Simon Armitage’s poems, look for a copy of Stanza Stones (pictured at the top of this post). And, not to be missed, we hope you enjoy this short film clip!

The Ocean & the Stars

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Human lives are intimately entwined with plankton. Every breath we take is a gift of oxygen from the plankton. In fact photosynthetic bacteria and protists produce as much oxygen as all the forests and terrestrial plants combined. And for the last three billion years, phytoplankton have absorbed huge amounts of carbon dioxide. Plankton regulate the productivity and acidity of the ocean through the carbon cycle, and exert a major influence on climate.” — from Plankton: Wonders of the Drifting World

Fundamental to life on Earth, plankton are also eerily beautiful, and represent a virtually unknown cosmos in our midst. Christian Sardet’s Plankton: Wonders of the Drifting World is the most visually exciting book we have come across in a very long time. Go slowly, page by page, and a pure sense of wonder will fill you to the brim. Much like gazing at the stars — or viewing the astounding images from the Hubble Space Telescope. In the interest of both science and poetry, Plankton needs to be on the same Land Library shelf with the forthcoming The Hubble Cosmos: 25 Years of New Vistas in Space!

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Plankton Mandala: This image from Christian Sardet’s book depicts more than 200 different kinds of plankton. In the upper part of the mandala are the largest creatures of zooplankton: jellyfish, siphonophores, ctenophores, salps. In the center are a mix of chaetognaths, annelids, mollusks, and crustaceans. Also included are larvae and juveniles. The lower part of the image shows microscopic organisms (measuring less than 1mm), mostly single-cell protists: radiolarians, foraminifera, diatoms, and dinoflagellates.

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Just one of thousands of images from the Hubble Space Telescope: Supernova Remnant: SNR 0519.

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Planktonic Juveniles: including the red-blotched squid, Loligo vulgaris.

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From the chapter, Worms and Tadpoles: Arrows, Tubes and Nets.

John Steinbeck had this to say about tide pools. He could have been talking about the wide open ocean as well:

It is advisable to look from the tide pool to the stars and then back to the tide pool again.

For more on the Plankton Chronicles Project visit their photo-filled website, or view many short film clips on Christian Sardet’s YouTube channel!

Our wonderful immersion in the drifting world of plankton had us reaching for one of our favorite books to leaf through:

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For more on Ernst Haeckel and the patterns of nature, have a look at a book-filled post from a few years back:

The Smooth Feel of a Sea Shell

The Power of Books and the Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

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This was one of the most surprising, memorable, and inspirational books we read back in 2009, and we’re thrilled that it’s just been republished in a young readers edition!

William Kamkwamba’s The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind is many books in one. Kamkwamba gives us a vivid tale of a child’s growing up in the African nation of Malawi. The African landscape is an important character throughout this story, as is Malawi’s corrupt government, and the drought and famine that brought William’s family to their knees.

Forced to leave school due to his family’s dire circumstances, William discovered a tiny volunteer-run library, and soon came across two books: Junior Integrated Science and Explaining Physics. Both of these books laid the groundwork for an unexpected find — one of those serendipitous encounters that libraries are so very, very good at — especially when matched with a curious mind like William Kamkwamba’s:

“…I squatted down to grab one of the dictionaries, and when I did, I noticed a book I’d never seen, pushed into the shelf and slightly concealed. What is this? I thought. Pulling it out, I saw it was an American textbook called Using Energy, and this book has since changed my life. The cover featured a long row of windmills — though at that time I had no idea what a windmill was.”

This book provided William Kamkwamba several ah-ha! moments over the next few days, chief among them, how such knowledge might help his family, and at the same time, unleash his best dreams for a future ahead:

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“With a windmill we’d finally release ourselves from the troubles of darkness and hunger. In Malawi, the wind was one of the few consistent things given to us by God, blowing in the treetops day and night. A windmill meant more than just power, it was freedom.”

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The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind is a wonderful story, full of grit, ingenuity and hope! Please check out the following 3 minute video clip. Among other great images, you’ll see William Kamkwamba proudly holding up the library book that started it all!

Lessons from Cuba, After the Thaw

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With the great help of many, the Land Library keeps moving forward with plans to establish an Urban Homestead Library for inner-city Denver. Making ready for that happy day, we continue to add many more urban agriculture books to our collection. Our most recent acquisitions may come from 90 miles offshore, but we know for sure that they will offer inspiration for our Mile-High City.

Carey Clouse’s Farming Cuba: Urban Agriculture From the Ground Up tells a very hopeful tale. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990’s, Cuba’s lifeline was suddenly cut. With fuel, fertilizers, and pesticides disappearing overnight, Cubans began growing their own organic produce wherever they could find the space — on rooftops, balconies, vacant lots, school grounds. By 1998 there were more than 8,000 urban farms in Havana, producing nearly half of Cuba’s vegetables.

Farming Cuba vividly reports from Havana’s orchards, gardens, chicken coops and pig pens — giving hope to any city bent on providing healthy local food, neighborhood by neighborhood. Here’s two more wonderful books to inspire any state-side urban farmer:

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Sowing Change: The Making of Havana’s Urban Agriculture by Adriana Premat, and Unfinished Puzzle: Cuban Agriculture, the Challenges, Lessons and Opportunities by May Ling Chan & Eduardo Roach.

With the recent thaw in U.S.–Cuba relations, wouldn’t it be wonderful to follow-up with a lesson-learning exchange program between urban farmers separated by 90 miles of ocean, and a mutual, unfortunate past?

For more on Cuba’s urban farm plots, here’s a terrific film clip from the BBC’s Around the World in 80 Gardens:

Elephants on the Edge

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This may be one of the true publishing events of the past many years. The Amboseli Elephants: A Long-Term Perspective on a Long-Lived Mammal is the much-anticipated summation of what has been learned from the nearly forty year old Amboseli Elephant Research Project — the longest continuous elephant research project in the world.

The book’s editors (Cynthia Moss, Harvey Croze, and Phyllis Lee) report on their uninterrupted field study of over 2,500 individual elephants in Kenya’s Amboseli National Park, in the shadow of Mt. Kilimanjaro. Every topic imaginable is explored in this remarkable book — behavior, communication, reproduction, conservation, ethics, and more. Wildlife biologist Marc Bekoff writes: “The Amboseli Elephants is the most outstanding book ever published on these magnificent animals.”

Lead editor Cynthia Moss’ Amboseli field work began in 1973. Her earlier book Elephant Memories (also pictured above) follows one elephant family through thirteen years of good times and bad.

It’s amazing to think that it wasn’t until the second half of the twentieth century that people mounted serious studies of elephants in the wild. Here’s a few more books from the Land Library’s shelves. They all share an urgency to learn and understand before it’s too late for us, and for the elephants:

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The Elephant’s Secret Sense: The Hidden Life of the Wild Herds of Africa by Caitlin O’Connell, The Fate of the Elephant by Douglas Chadwick, Silent Thunder: In the Presence of Elephants by Katy Payne.

And there’s this important volume that begins with the sad but necessary premise that the future health and survival of elephants is dependent on human action:

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Elephants and Ethics: Toward a Morality of Coexistence, edited by Christen Wemmer & Catherine Christen.

For more on the Elephants of Amboseli, be sure to visit the Amboseli Trust for Elephants website!

As many of you know, the Land Library’s collection has a global focus, not just books on the Rocky Mountains. One of our favorite sections of the library is focused on the natural history of Africa!

South Park's Buffalo Peaks Ranch, future home of the Rocky Mountain Land Library's global collection of books on people and the land -- from the Arctic to the African savannas.

South Park’s Buffalo Peaks Ranch, future home of the Rocky Mountain Land Library’s global collection of books on people and the land — from the Arctic to the African savannas.