Your Trail Guide to the Rocky Mountain Land Library

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.

We find our place in the world through land and stories, and the Rocky Mountain Land Library unites our passion for both.” — Mark Fiege, author of The Republic of Nature: An Environmental History of the United States

Books are the tools we love best. They have a way of connecting people across the globe, and over the centuries. Books help us discover and celebrate the beauty of our improbable blue world. And books provide us with the tools we all need to live lighter on the land.

Our webpages (listed above) describes the Land Library’s books, programs, and the emerging Headwaters to Plains Network — a series of book-lined spaces, encouraging discovery, quiet thought, creative pursuits, and active community involvement.

Over the years, our website has also featured posts on some of the books that excite us to no end. You’ll also see that we report on the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity we all have to restore a historic Colorado ranch. Set in the high mountain grasslands of South Park, Buffalo Peaks Ranch will soon be the headwater site of a residential library — a place where you can come and stay for as long as you like.

Read about concrete corral stalls given new life as artist studios, our plans for a Land Library for inner-city Denver, complete with its very own Seed Library.

But as you’ll see from many years of web posts, we are happiest when reporting on books inspired by a sense of wonder, and hopeful for an even brighter future ahead.

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Stay tuned for much more from the Land Library in the months ahead!

The Rocky Mountain Land Library is like a gene bank for words, it’s our way of saving the past for the future. — David Mas Masumoto, farmer and author.

For more information on the Rocky Mountain Land Library, please contact jeff@landlibrary.org, 2550 W. 39th Avenue, Denver, CO 80211 (office location), 303-321-3574

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. Next week, this wonderfully written book arrives 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.

round stacks

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.

One last note: With logs stacked high for a warm winter at home, just make sure you have enough books to last the long nights ahead:
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Fuel 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)

A Landscape Transformed

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Historic fires are sweeping across large parts of California as we post this piece, and all signs point to a very active fire season in the Far West.

Given the central role of fire in shaping the Western landscape, the Land Library long ago committed to building as strong a collection of fire-related titles as possible. Luckily, early on, we realized that the work of environmental historian Stephen Pyne was the place to begin as we pieced together our collection. Stephen Pyne spent fifteen seasons as a firefighter on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, between 1967 and 1981. Since that first-hand experience, Pyne has written over a dozen books on fire, including two comprehensive classics, pictured above: Fire in America: A Cultural History of Wildland and Rural Fire, and World Fire: The Culture of Fire on Earth.

And here’s three more books from Stephen Pyne:

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Fire on the Rim: A Firefighter’s Season at the Grand Canyon (Pyne’s own memoir), Vestal Fire: An Environmental History, Told Through Fire, of Europe and Europe’s Encounter with the World, Smokechasing (a collection of over thirty fire-related essays).

For more on fire, the Land Library strongly recommends the following volumes from our shelves:

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Fire Ecology in Rocky Mountain Landscapes by William L. Baker, Forgotten Fires: Native Americans and the Transient Wilderness by Omer C. Stewart (a history of Native American use of fire to manage plant and animal communities).

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Two Classic Accounts of Historic Western Fires: Young Men and Fire, Norman Maclean’s account of the tragic 1949 Mann Gulch, Montana fire (a book that occupied the last fourteen years of Maclean’s life), The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt & the Fire That Saved America, Timothy Egan’s riveting account of the massive 1910 Blow-Up. The Big Burn also supplies a concise history of the early days of the U.S. Forest Service, under the leadership of the remarkable Gifford Pinchot.

But, after the fires die down, what comes next??

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Thanks to adventuresome seeds and spores, life comes back after most wildland fires. The Land Library’s latest acquisition presents the story of forest recovery following a major Australian conflagration: Forest Phoenix: How a Great Forest Recovers After Wildfire by David Lindenmayer, et.al.

When the Earth Was Young

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Rock painting was our species’ first artistic adventures, our first celebration of the natural world, maybe our first crucial step into reflective self-consciousness. Tony Hopkins’ extraordinary artistic project, to witness this art from the chalk-hills of England to the shaman caves of South Africa, and then paint the paintings himself, gives a uniquely sympathetic insight into this first flowering of the human imagination.” — Richard Mabey.

For over twenty years, British artist Tony Hopkins has traveled in pursuit of the globe’s most remarkable rock art sites. The result is one of the most intriguing books we’ve seen — Pecked and Painted: Rock Art, from Long Meg to Giant Wallaroo, a wonderfully rich volume full of the author’s photographs, field sketches, finished paintings, and extensive journal entries. Hopkins truly went far and wide in his rock art quest: Britain, Ireland, France, Italy, Scandinavia, Australia, South Africa, Namibia, Sudan, Egypt, and the American Southwest. No two sites were the same, but as Tony Hopkins describes, something universal shines through:

Whatever its meaning when the earth was young, rock art speaks to us now of a time when people lived their lives close to nature, in tune with the rhythm of the earth. It is no coincidence that most rock art is associated with what we think of today as wilderness areas, the far reaches of temporal and spiritual existence, wild landscapes where the past is still visible in the present, where what is most special has to do with the way we respond to nature.

Hopkins’ words perfectly describe why the Land Library has built a 20 year collection of books devoted to prehistoric art. Starting with North America, with volumes such as these:

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The Serpent and the Sacred Fire: Fertility Images in Southwest Rock Art by Dennis Slifer, Plains Indian Rock Art by James D. Keyser & Michael A. Klassen , Legacy on Stone: Rock Art of the Colorado Plateau and Four Corners Region by Sally J. Cole.

But before long, those universal themes mentioned above, led us to seek out volumes such as these:

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Rock Art of the Dreamtime by Josephine Flood, The Hunter’s Vision: The Prehistoric Art of Zimbabwe by Peter Garlake, Prehistoric Rock Art by Paul G. Bahn

along with Jean Clottes’ classic and comprehensive World Rock Art:

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We’ll have a special corner at Buffalo Peaks Ranch dedicated to rock art from across the world. What a shelving party that will be!

Water in the West & Beyond

Water, so common on our lucky blue planet, will always remain a mysterious substance — one that inspires gratitude, wonder, conflict and concern. Given the global importance of this increasingly limited resource, the Land Library is always excited to add another important volume to its water collection. Books such as these:

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Enduring Acequias: Wisdom of the Land, Knowledge of the Water by Juan Esevan Arellano. The word acequia has its roots in the arid Middle East. This insightful work pays homage to like cultures across the globe, especially New Mexico’s time-honored irrigation system that balances the needs of community with the limits of water in the West.
Also pictured above: Kurt Fausch’s For the Love of Rivers: A Scientist’s Journey, with streamside reports from the Rocky Mountains to Japan’s Hokkaido Island. (“With deft storytelling and poetic prose, Kurt Fausch conveys the mystery and magic of flowing waters.” — Sandra Postel).

And just published, here’s two more good books on water in the West:

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Trout Culture: How Fly Fishing Forever Changed the Rocky Mountain West, a fascinating environmental history by Jen Corrinne Brown, and Rivers, Fish and the People: Tradition, Science, and Historical Ecology of Fisheries in the American West, a collection of Pacific Northwest studies, edited by Pei-Lin Yu, combining both traditional knowledge and recent scientific discoveries.

So there you have it, the most recent handful of essential books for a Western Watershed Library. One that we are planning to locate here:

The Lambing Barn at Buffalo Peaks Ranch, along the Middle Fork of the South Platte River. (photo by Berry Oliver)

The Lambing Barn at Buffalo Peaks Ranch, along the Middle Fork of the South Platte River. (photo by Berry Oliver)

With Buffalo Peaks Ranch lying so close to the South Platte River’s headwaters, water will always be a central theme to the Land Library’s resources and programs. Our planned River Hut will house a Watershed Library, full of books focused on one of the next century’s most critical natural resources.

We have been diligently gathering books on water in the American West, but we’ll also have water-related books from across the globe, including these two from Great Britain:

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Simon Cooper’s Life of a Chalkstream, a lyrical look at one of England’s natural treasures: over 150 streams flowing wide, shallow and clear, thanks to the natural filter of headwater chalk hills. Plus: a British natural history classic, H. E. Bates’ Down the River, a journey along the River Nene and the River Ouse, full of flora, fauna, not to mention the keenly observed life of villages along the way.

For more on Buffalo Peaks Ranch’s future Watershed Library, take a glance at one of our past posts — full of wonderful books that will soon find a home on the banks of the South Platte River!

Headwaters to Plains, and Across the Globe

A Hayloft Full of Hope

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Jean Giono once wrote: “There are times in life when a person has to rush off in pursuit of hopefulness.” Well, whenever the Rocky Mountain Land Library rushes off it’s usually in pursuit of good land-inspired books to add to its 32,000 volume collection. After all, we have a hayloft to fill at Buffalo Peaks Ranch, along with plans for a book-lined space for inner-city Denver, part of our Headwaters to Plains Learning Network.

Here’s a glimpse at a few of the Land Library’s latest arrivals:

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Two Guides to Western Wildlands: David Gessner’s All the Wild That Remain: Edward Abbey, Wallace Stegner, and the American West, plus George Constantz’s Ice, Fire, and Nutcrackers: A Rocky Mountain Ecology, a wonderful introduction to the spine of the continent.

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Wildlife Studies from Across the Globe: Wolves on the Hunt: The Behavior of Wolves Hunting Wild Prey, from three leading wolf biologists of our day, L.David Mech, Douglas Smith, and Daniel MacNulty. And from the forests of southeast Asia, William deBuys’ The Last Unicorn: A Search for One of the Earth’s Rarest Creatures (the saola, the first large land mammal discovered in over fifty years).

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Shepherd Tales from Across the World: With sheep being an important part of Buffalo Peaks Ranch’s history, we couldn’t pass up these two wonderful books: The Art & Science of Shepherding: Tapping the Wisdom of French Herders, edited by Michel Meuret & Fred Provenza, along with John Bezzant’s Shepherds and Their Dogs, a fascinating look at this age-old partnership — full of evocative black and white photographs.

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Books at the Heart of a Movement: In this case the importance of biodiversity as told through the Collected Papers of Michael E. Soule: Early Years in Modern Conservation Biology. And secondly, the latest book on the vital importance of connecting kids and nature: Scott Sampson’s How to Raise a Wild Child: The Art and Science of Falling in Love with Nature.

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And Here’s a Book All About Hope! Natasha Bowen’s The Color of Food: Stories of Race, Resilience and Farming is a beautiful and wonderfully conceived collection of portraits and stories highlighting an often forgotten agricultural story. Natasha Bowens’ quest to explore her own roots in the soil leads her to unearth a larger story of culture, resilience, and the reclaiming of traditions. For more on the work of Natasha Bowens (pictured above), be sure to visit her website The Color of Food.

A special day at Buffalo Peaks Ranch

A special day, with melons, at Buffalo Peaks Ranch

A part of our obligation to our own being and to our descendants is to study life and our conditions, searching for the authentic underpinnings of hope.Wendell Berry

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.