Water & the Reverse Architecture of India’s Vanishing Stepwells

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This has to be one of the most unique volumes in the Land Library’s Water collection– what a treasure! For several years author and photographer Victoria Lautman documented over 200 of India’s remarkable stepwells — water storage structures displaying magnificent engineering and great geometric beauty. Lautman’s The Vanishing Stepwells of India features 75 stepwells across India. She writes: “People don’t even know they’re there. They are hiding in plain sight.”

“It’s hard to imagine an entire category of architecture slipping off history’s grid, and yet that seems to be the case with India’s incomparable stepwells. Never heard of ‘em? Don’t fret, you’re not alone: millions of tourists – and any number of locals – lured to the subcontinent’s palaces, forts, tombs, and temples are oblivious to these centuries-old water-structures that can even be found hiding-in-plain-sight close to thronged destinations like Humayun’s Tomb in Delhi or Agra’s Taj Mahal.

But now, India’s burgeoning water crisis might lead to redemption for at least some of these subterranean edifices, which are being re-evaluated for their ability to collect and store water. With any luck, tourist itineraries will also start incorporating what are otherwise an “endangered species” of the architecture world.” Victoria Lautman

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“Over the centuries, stepwell construction evolved so that by the 11th century they were astoundingly complex feats of engineering, architecture, and art.”

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“Rudimentary stepwells first appeared in India between the 2nd and 4th centuries A.D., born of necessity in a capricious climate zone bone-dry for much of the year followed by torrential monsoon rains for many weeks. It was essential to guarantee a year-round water-supply for drinking, bathing, irrigation and washing, particularly in the arid states of Gujarat (where they’re called vavs) and Rajasthan (where they’re baoli, baori, or bawdi) where the water table could be inconveniently buried ten-stories or more underground.”

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Helical Vav, Champaner, early 16th century: This simple, spiraling stepwell is so well hidden that it took the author several attempts to find it.

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“By building down into the earth rather than the expected “up”, a sort of reverse architecture was created and, since many stepwells have little presence above the surface other than a low masonry wall, a sudden encounter with one of these vertiginous, man-made chasms generates both a sense of utter surprise and total dislocation. Once inside, the telescoping views, towering pavilions, and the powerful play of light and shadow are equally disorienting, while also making them devilishly difficult to photograph.”

For more on India’s stepwells, take a look at this short clip!

Chand Baori is a famous stepwell situated in the village Abhaneri near Jaipur in Indian state of Rajasthan. This step well is located opposite Harshat Mata Temple and is one of the deepest and largest step wells in India. It was built in 9th century and has 3500 narrow steps and 13 stories and is 100 feet deep.

 

Pleasing Work, Stacked High & Dry

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“Here it comes at last. The cold time. The great time….Time to take a stroll out to the woodpile and get started.” — Lars Mytting, Norwegian Wood

Published in 2011, Lars Mytting’s Hel Ved (Solid Wood) spent more than a year on Norway’s bestseller list. Over a year ago, this wonderfully written book arrived in the States, under its new and very descriptive title, Norwegian Wood: Chopping, Stacking and Drying Wood the Scandinavian Way.

Earlier in his distinguished writing career, Lars Mytting wrote three novels, with the most recent receiving Norway’s National Bookseller Award. With Norwegian Wood (a bit of a departure), Mytting lends his poetic voice to an in-depth exploration of stacking logs, drying wood, and all the fire-burning elements that keeps us warm.

Norwegian Wood offers time-tested tools and techniques of turning wood to fire. Along the way we meet real people who, year after year, work diligently for the winter ahead:

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Ole Haugen, Elga, Norway: “Ole is the kind of man who would rather sing the praises of others than his own. His stacks, he says, are simply practical constructions that do the job. But seventy years of experience tell their own story. The ends of his stack are so neat it looks as though the whole thing had been trimmed on both sides with a huge circular saw. Not a single log has been laid crosswise. Even twisted logs have found their places in the stack, without compromising the stability of the whole.
My method is very simple. I do the chopping, splitting, and stacking in small doses. That way I don’t get too stiff, and the wood doesn’t lie long on the ground. The secret of an even woodpile is to learn the trick of knowing what sizes you need to make a stable structure….And I also allow for the fact that the wood is going to shrink a little as it dries, so I build in a slight inward lean against a support, so the stack won’t topple forward that easily.’” — from Norwegian Wood.

 

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Every man looks at his wood-pile with a kind of affection. I love to have mine before my window, and the more chips around the better to remind me of my pleasing work.Henry David Thoreau

Known as the beehive or the Holzhausen, the round stack is an outstanding form of woodpile once widely used in Norway, but now almost obsolete. It is not easy to make, and if it starts to collapse the whole thing goes. But a successful round pile has much to recommend it. It makes good use of the available space and can accommodate twisted wood, and, if it’s properly constructed, rainwater will run off the outside so it does not need a top covering.” — from Norwegian Wood

 

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Brute survival, but an artist’s touch as well: one of the many sculpture stacks that pop up in rural Norway during the spring. This angler’s dream was stacked in Drevsjo by Bjare Granli.

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But of course the true test of all the hard work of chopping, stacking, and drying, is how warm and content you will be throughout the long winter. Author Lars Mytting seems very comfortable in his writing den.

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book stacksFuel for the soul: like wood piled for the winter, the Rocky Mountain Land Library’s book stacks, carefully arranged in a non-toppling, Norwegian way. We hope Ole Haugen would approve. (Land Library storage site, February 2012)

We’ll be writing much more about the global reach of the Land Library’s books in the days ahead. To learn much more about the Rocky Mountain Land Library and our wide-ranging collection, be sure to visit our current Kickstarter page!

kickstarter-logo-light

The Rocky Mountain Land Library’s long-awaited Kickstarter Campaign is LIVE! Help bring books, people & programs to Colorado’s Buffalo Peaks Ranch. With your support we will transform a historic high mountain ranch into a residential library devoted to land, community, and the many positive ways we can all move forward together.

But first, CLICK HERE and you’ll find out much more. Learn how you can be an important part of this land-inspired, book-loving grassroots project!

PLEASE DONATE & PLEASE SHARE!

HELP US SPREAD THE WORD FAR & WIDE!

 

Mutual Bonds of Respect

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Here’s another in a series of posts on the global reach of the Land Library’s 35,000+ volumes devoted to people and the land:

“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

like baby

“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!

To learn much more about the Rocky Mountain Land Library and our wide-ranging collection, be sure to visit our current Kickstarter page!

kickstarter-logo-light

The Rocky Mountain Land Library’s long-awaited Kickstarter Campaign is LIVE! Help bring books, people & programs to Colorado’s Buffalo Peaks Ranch. With your support we will transform a historic high mountain ranch into a residential library devoted to land, community, and the many positive ways we can all move forward together.

But first, CLICK HERE and you’ll find out much more. Learn how you can be an important part of this land-inspired, book-loving grassroots project!

PLEASE DONATE & PLEASE SHARE!

HELP US SPREAD THE WORD FAR & WIDE!

“The egg of a sea bird, lovely, perfect, and laid this very morning.”

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Over the next few days we’ll be highlighting the global reach of the Rocky Mountain Land Library’s more than 35,000 volumes dedicated to people and the land. Here is today’s timely post!

The Land Library’s celtic roots run deep. For the past 30+ years, we have built a strong collection of books on the natural histories of Ireland, Scotland, and Wales — with a special emphasis on the Hebrides and Ireland’s western coast. As Saint Patrick’s Day draws near, we reached for one of our favorites: Atlas of the Irish Rural Landscape edited by F.H.A. Aalen, Kevin Whelan, and Matthew Stout.
This handsome atlas explores the rural landscape as a defining element of Ireland’s national heritage. Far more than a collection of maps, this book is thickly illustrated with photos, drawings, diagrams, and charts. An excellent text presents a narrative where layer upon layer of natural & cultural histories intertwine. Detailed descriptions are given of building styles, field and settlement patterns, archaeological monuments, villages, woodlands and bogs. Abundant maps open your eyes to Ireland’s glacial past, along with its rich heritage of stone circles, ring forts, sacred wells, Cistercian monasteries, and much more.

Also pictured above, from the Land Library’s shelves: The Natural History of Ulster by John Faulkner and Robert Thompson — the first comprehensive study of the natural history of Ulster Province in the north of Ireland.

Here’s just a brief sampler of other Irish books and authors that have found a home at the Land Library.

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Off the southwest coast of Ireland, The Blasket Islands has produced a remarkable set of lyrical memoirs. They are books coming straight from native voices, and not part of a literary movement. Our favorite might just be Maurice O’Sullivan’s Twenty Years A-Growing, translated into English in 1933. E.M.Forster wrote the introduction to that edition, and to this day, his praise for O’Sullivan’s book seems pitch perfect: “…here is the egg of a sea-bird — lovely, perfect, and laid this very morning.

Also pictured above: Ireland: A Smithsonian Natural History by Irish naturalist Michael Viney — a well done and very comprehensive guide.

The Land Library has many books on Ireland’s flora and fauna, plus a special shelf devoted to the works of writer and cartographer Tim Robinson:

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Tim Robinson has won two Irish Book Awards for his Connemara trilogy. Writing about Robinson’s two volume study of the Aran Islands, Michael Viney describes it as “one of the most original, revelatory and exhilarating works of literature ever produced in Ireland.

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The English writer Robert Macfarlane has had a huge influence on the Land Library’s team. We’re also not aware of anyone else who catagorizes authors by rock type. Here is Macfarlane on Tim Robinson (pictured above):

Limestone has been blessed with two exceptional 20th century writers. The first of these is WH Auden, who so loved the high karst shires of the northern Pennines….The second of the great limestone writers is Tim Robinson. On the west coast of Ireland, in County Clare, between the granite of Galway and the sandstone of Liscannor, rises a vast limestone escarpment, pewterish in colour on a dull day, silver in sunshine….So begins one of the most sustained, intensive and imaginative studies of a landscape that has ever been carried off.

So here’s a question: Won’t there be people in the Rockies who will want to read the works of Tim  Robinson of the Aran Islands?

YES, we definitely think so.

Please SUPPORT all things global and local at the Rocky Mountain Land Library! 

kickstarter-logo-light

The Rocky Mountain Land Library’s long-awaited Kickstarter Campaign is LIVE! Help bring books, people & programs to Colorado’s Buffalo Peaks Ranch. With your support we will transform a historic high mountain ranch into a residential library devoted to land, community, and the many positive ways we can all move forward together.

But first, CLICK HERE and you’ll find out much more. Learn how you can be an important part of this land-inspired, book-loving grassroots project!

PLEASE DONATE & PLEASE SHARE!

HELP US SPREAD THE WORD FAR & WIDE!

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.

eagle

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

like baby

“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.”

hunter

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

clouds

“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.”

b&w author

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:
eternityeagle dreams
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.

clouds

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!