A Hayloft Full of Hope


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.


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).


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.


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:

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.

A Sheepwagon Full of Books


In 2001, a wonderful Wyoming publisher, High Plains Press, published one of the Land Library’s favorite books, Sheepwagon: Home on the Range. Author Nancy Weidel offered one crisp, concise reason for our admiration: “The sheepwagon is a marvel of practicality and efficiency.”

But there’s more reasons to love this book, with its stories, photographs, and sensitive appreciation for hard lives lived in a starkly beautiful land. This book makes clear that the sheepwagon provided both a bit of warmth, and a touch of home. Weidel: “Designed to provide shelter and heat, mobility, and storage, the sheepwagon was the ideal home for the herder….It could easily be moved by two horses, a most important feature.”


Yes, as you can see, every inch counted, but space also needed to be found for the unexpected. Some sheepwagons had side boxes that “came in handy during lambing, when a weak newborn might be placed there overnight to be revived by the heat of the wagon stove.”

Given Buffalo Peaks Ranch’s tradition of sheep ranching, we would love to see at least a few sheepwagons return to South Park. Of course, being the impractical book people that we are, we immediately lose the point of the story and wonder, what books can we fit in this tiny space? When life is pared to its essentials, don’t we still need at least a small shelf of books? Here’s a few we would pick:

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Two classic memoirs of the American West: This House of Sky: Landscapes of a Western Mind by Ivan Doig, and The Solace of Open Spaces by Gretel Ehrlich, along with a terrific book from the Scottish highlands: The Shepherd’s Life by James Rebanks, and most definitely this classic Basque story of shepherding in the American West, and the long lost homeland of the Pyrenees: Sweet Promised Land by Robert Laxalt.

from Western Wagon Wheels by Lambert Florin

And of course there’s this classic memoir from the Land Library’s shelves — Archer Gilfillan’s Sheep: Life on the South Dakota Range(1929). Here’s Gilfillan writing simply and eloquently about little known lives:

“One of the popular misconceptions about herding is that it is a monotonous job; or as a friend of mine puts it, ‘Herding is all right if you don’t have an active mind.” But there is really little monotony in it. The sheep rarely act the same two days in succession. If they run one day, they are apt to be quiet the next. They herd differently in a high wind from what they do in a gentle breeze. They travel with a cold wind and against a warm one. They are apt to graze contentedly where feed is plenty and to string out and run where the pickings are poor. Herding at one season is so different from herding at another as almost to constitute a different job.”

Zora Neale Hurston & The Power of Books


Inspired by books and stories, Zora Neale Hurston eventually found a way to stretch her limbs:

“In that box were Gulliver’s Travels, Grimm’s Fairy Tales, Dick Whittington, Greek and Roman Myths, and best of all, Norse Tales. Why did the Norse tales strike so deeply into my soul? I do not know, but they did. I seemed to remember seeing Thor swing his mighty short-handled hammer as he spread across the sky in rumbling thunder, lightning flashing from the tread of his steeds and the wheels of his chariot….That held majesty for me….

In a way this early reading gave me great anguish through all my childhood and early adolescence. My soul was with the gods and my body in the village. People just would not act like gods. Stew beef, fried fat-back and morning grits were no ambrosia from Valhalla. Raking back yards and carrying out chamber pots were not the tasks of Thor. I wanted to be away from drabness and to stretch my limbs in some mighty struggle.”

Always in search of inspiration, the Land Library will continue to return to a central theme over the next few weeks: the intrinsic value of reading, the power of books, and those first moments — our childhood encounters with the printed page. Our continued source of inspiration for these posts will be Maria Tatar’s Enchanted Hunters: the Power of Stories in Childhood (pictured above), a wonderful blend of scholarly insight and personal memoir. Maria Tatar has also included an invaluable appendix which records writer’s recollections of how books changed their lives — writers such as Zora Neale Hurston.

Next Week — Chet Raymo & the Roots of Wonder

Mean Poets and Calm Cattle

jack thorpcattle calls

If you got to talking to most cowboys, they’d admit they write ’em. I think some of the meanest, toughest sons of bitches around write poetry.” — Ross Knox

In 1908, a local rancher walked into the Estancia, New Mexico newspaper office, and inquired about printing a small book of cowboy songs he had been working on. For almost twenty years, Jack Thorp gathered cowboy ballads and poems from across the west. The finished volume was printed for just six cents a copy, and was the first book exclusively devoted to cowboy songs. Not only that, but Thorp is recognized as the first person to preserve the ballads sung by ranchers to calm cattle on the range. Western historian Mark Gardner has written a wonderful essay to accompany this new edition of Jack Thorp’s Songs of the Cowboys, which includes a CD selection from the songs Thorp has kept alive.

also pictured above: Cowboy Songs, Ballads, and Cattle Calls from Texas, a Library of Congress CD, featuring field recordings made by John A. Lomax.

And, to put a Western twist on National Poetry Month, here’s a few more books & CD’s from the Land Library’s Western Folklore collection:

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Elko! A Cowboy Gathering (a CD from the 20th Annual National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nevada), Cowboy Poets & Cowboy Poetry, edited by David Stanley & Elaine Thatcher, Cowboy Poetry Classics (a CD of a Smithsonian Folkways recording)

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Cowboy Poetry: The Reunion, edited by Virginia Bennett, Home on the Range: John A. Lomax & his Cowboy Songs by Deborah Hopkinson & S.D. Schindler (from our Waterton Canyon Kids Library), Graining the Mare: The Poetry of Ranch Women, edited by Teresa Jordan

Heart-Pine Russia


Russia’s geography is rich in forest, and it’s culture is abundant in the spirits and heroes that traverse it. The national literature has ventured deep into these woods, but Western critics have only rarely followed. Costlow’s marvelous book stands in the middle of this forest and points to wonders all around. This is a beautiful, meditative, and insightful book that opens up new worlds of appreciation for both literature and nature.” — William Nickell on Jane T. Costlow’s Heart-Pine Russia: Walking and Writing the Nineteenth-Century Forest

Russia has more woodlands than any country in the world, and its forests have loomed large in Russian folklore, culture, and history. Russan forests have long been the focus of naturalist wonder, scientific scrutiny, and poetic imagination. For some the forest was the imaginary landscape of their religious homeland, for others it was the locus of peasant culture and local knowledge. In Heart-Pine Russia, Jane Costlow explores the central place the forest has held in the Russian imagination.

Costlow considers the work of authors such as Turgenev and Tolstoy, and artists like Shishkin, Repin, and Nesterov. One of our favorite chapters focuses on Dmitrii Kaigorodov, a forester and natural historian who was a John Burroughs-like figure offering popular works in the end of the Imperial era. (His most famous book was titled Chats about the Russian Forest — the Land Library’s latest book we would love to find!).

Author John Randolph has this to say about Heart-Pine Russia: “The struggle to really see and hear the life of Russia’s forests infuses Costlow’s story with many lyrical moments…” The Land Library is thrilled to find a book with so many fresh insights into another culture’s natural history traditions. Jane Costlow’s book joins several more on our shelves:


One of the first Russian natural history books we ever read: Nature’s Diary by Mikhail Prishvin (the Penguin edition includes an appreciation from John Updike), and a former Land Series book, The Storks’ Nest: Life and Love in the Russian Countryside, Laura Williams’ wonderful memoir of moving from Colorado to live and work in the Russian outback, eventually marrying international nature photographer Igor Shpilenok.
The Reindeer People: Living with Animals and Spirits in Siberia, anthropologist Piers Vitebsky’s sensitively drawn portrait of native people in the modern world, and Dersu the Trapper, V.K. Arseniev’s (1872-1930) description of three expeditions to the Ussurian taiga (along the Sea of Japan) and his classic encounters with the solitary aboriginal hunter named Dersu. It’s amazing how many current-day nature writers have been influenced by Arseniev’s book!

The Tiger: A True Story of Revenge and Survival — one of the most popular books the Land Library Book Club has ever read. Covering the same landscape as Dersu the Trapper, John Vaillant tells the tale of the mighty Amur tiger, and the hard life of the Russian outback. A wonderful writer! As is, Ian Frazier. His Travels in Siberia describes the land, the people, and the dark chapters of Russia’s Siberian experience.


Who are we when we enter the forest? What happens to our personalities, our languages, our histories, our narratives? The essays in this book explore a tradition of writing and envisioning Russia’s great European forest — diminished and vulnerable, but lovely and powerful and in many ways daunting to those who entered it…” Jane T. Costlow, in Heart-Pine Russia: Walking and Writing the Nineteenth-Century Forest

The City Alive

mcsorleys'Up in the Old Hotel

The New York Times just reported some truly exciting and unexpected news. The New Yorker‘s next issue will feature a new essay by the legendary author Joseph Mitchell. The newly discovered “Street Life” is the first published work by Mitchell since 1964.

Joseph Mitchell, who died in 1996, was the great wandering and listening soul of New York City. True, you won’t find any of his titles at local Nature Centers, but his sketches of the urban scene shows us a writer immersed in his home landscape. From Fulton Fish Market to McSorley’s Saloon, Joseph Mitchell observed his given plot of land keenly and compassionately, like the ideal naturalist that he was. Back in 1992, his work, long out of print, was resurrected in a wonderful anthology, Up in the Old Hotel.

There are too many to choose from, but here’s one of our favorite passages from that collection:

The Rivermen, from Joseph Mitchell’s The Bottom of the Harbor

I often feel drawn to the Hudson River, and I have spent a lot of time through the years poking around the part of it that flows past the city. I never get tired of looking at it; it hypnotizes me. I like to look at it in midsummer, when it is warm and dirty and drowsy, and I like to look at it in January, when it is carrying ice. I like to look at it when it is stirred up, when a northeast wind is blowing and a strong tide is running — a new-moon tide or a full-moon tide — and I like to look at it when it is slack. It is exciting to me on weekdays, when it is crowded with ocean craft, harbor craft, and river craft, but it is the river itself that draws me, and not the shipping, and I guess I like it best on Sundays, when there are lulls as long as a half an hour, during which, all the way from the Battery to the George Washington Bridge, nothing moves upon it, not even a ferry, not even a tug, and it becomes as hushed and dark and secret and remote and unreal as a river in a dream.

The success of Up in the Old Hotel led many publishers to reprint Mitchell’s earlier books:

My Ears Are Bent, a collection of Joseph Mitchell’s earliest (pre-New Yorker) pieces, mostly from the 1930’s. Old Mr. Flood, a slim volume centered on the comings and goings of Manhattan’s Fulton Fish Market.

And two of his all-time classic collections: The Bottom of the Harbor, and McSorley’s Wonderful Saloon.

The Rocky Mountain Land Library will always have these books on our shelves, for the simple fact that Joseph Mitchell is one of the greatest writers of people and place that we know!

In the last few days, New Yorker editor David Remnick commented on the exciting find of new writings from Mitchell’s pen: “What’s so poignant about [the excerpts] is the sadness of the incompletion but the brilliance of the voice. There’s an ambition in the voice; the voice is becoming more Joycean. He’s looking outward, but all of these pieces are very interior. He’s at the center of it.


When things get too much for me, I put a wild-flower book and a couple of sandwiches in my pockets and go down to the South Shore of Staten Island and wander around awhile in one of the old cemeteries down there.” the opening passage of the classic Mr. Hunter’s Grave, from The Bottom of the Harbor.