Edna Lewis and a Tradition Preserved

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As a child in Virginia, I thought all food tasted delicious. After growing up, I didn’t think food tasted the same, so it has been my lifelong effort to try and recapture those good flavors of the past.” — Edna Lewis

Edna Lewis (1916-2006) had a remarkable career as a chef and writer of several best-selling cookbooks. Perhaps her most lasting contribution was her lifelong celebration of traditional southern cooking. She kept the tradition alive, and along the way inspired the next generation of cooks to make fresh magic from the local foods of the south.

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As many of you know, the Land Library has a 3,000 volume Kids Nature Library in Waterton Canyon, southwest of metro-Denver. One of our most treasured books at the Kids Library is Robbin Gourley’s beautifully illustrated picture book, Bring Me Some Apples and I’ll Make You a Pie: A Story About Edna Lewis.

Edna was born on a small farm in Freetown, Virginia — a farm that had been granted to Edna’s grandfather, a freed slave. Robbin Gourley’s lyrical tale (and her lush and vibrant watercolors) follows Edna and her family throughout the growing season. Gathered fruits, vegetables, and nuts quickly make their way to the family’s table, with the surplus canned for the winter ahead. Every family member is involved, but it’s Edna who shows an early genius for making fun recipes from the simple foods at hand. The New York Times had this to say about Edna Lewis’ upbringing: Growing, gathering and preparing food was more than just sustenance for the family; it was a form of entertainment. Without fancy cooking equipment, the family improvised — measuring baking powder on coins and cooking everything over wood.

It was Robbin Gourley’s wonderful kids book that inspired us to learn more about Edna Lewis, and to slowly gather her cookbooks for the Land Library. After all, if she could give so much to preserving a precious regional tradition, we wanted to reciprocate a tiny bit by keeping her work alive on our shelves!

Somewhere along the way, we came across this inspiring documentary, Fried Chicken and Sweet Potato Pie: Keeping Traditions Alive, written, produced, and directed by Bailey Barash. There’s much more to Edna Lewis’ life than you might imagine. What a wonderful film!

In 1995, Edna Lewis was awarded the first ever James Beard Living Legend Award, for her creative years in the kitchen, and for books such as this classic:

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Food traditions have long been a happy obsession at the Land Library. There is such a rich intersection between people, land, and food!

Recently, the two co-founders of the Rocky Mountain Land Library were interviewed by Colorado Matters‘ Ryan Warner. We discussed this summer’s renovation of Buffalo Peaks Ranch’s Cooks House. By the end of that project, we will have room for the ranch’s first library. For a few years it will feature a broad sampling of the Land Library’s collection, but eventually the Cooks House Library will feature a particular theme. Ryan Warner casually remarked, wouldn’t it be fitting for the Cooks House Library to be dedicated to food and the land?

We think Ryan is definitely on to something!  We can’t wait to start organizing that special collection. Until that time we’ll have many more posts on some of our favorite food books. Classics such as these:

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John Edge writes glowingly about Edna Lewis in his new book, but we especially loved this simple sentence: “Her words were deeply grounded in place.” (John Edge is also featured in the 20 minute documentary film above).

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And of course what would a Cooks House Library be without Ramon Adams’ wonderful history!

By the Light of a Coleman Lantern: The Alaskan Field Sketches of William D. Berry

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Bill’s field sketches were his record of what he saw. They were done in the field, but often finished hours later in the cabin, sometimes by the light of a Coleman lantern. — Elizabeth Berry

How much do we love this book? Well, every time we stumble across a copy of William D. Berry’s Alaskan Field Sketches in a secondhand bookstore, we let out a yelp, and then dutifully, and without question, purchase yet another copy for future generations of Land Library readers, naturalists, and visiting artists.

William D. Berry: 1954-1956 Alaskan Field Sketches (edited by Elizabeth Berry) preserves over 200 pages of Berry’s meticulous and faithful drawings from nature. A wide variety of Alaska’s wildlife is fully rendered by Berry, among them: beaver, lemming, moose, wolverine, Dall sheep, Willow ptarmigan, Arctic tern, Snowshoe hare, wolf, walrus, lynx, Arctic ground squirrel, Snow bunting — along with twenty-four pages devoted to caribou, that most iconic of arctic animals:

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Elizabeth Berry (William’s wife) provides commentary throughout, and we especially loved this insight into the artist as a young boy: “Bill completed his first book — on slugs — when he was five.”

William Berry (1929-1979) left relatively few finished works, but we should be satisfied with this classic collection containing a wealth of materials from his field sketches, notebooks, and letters.

Berry also wrote two of our all-time favorite children’s picture books:

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Two treasured volumes at the Land Library’s Waterton Canyon Kids Library are William Berry’s wonderful prairie book, Buffalo Land, and Deneki: An Alaskan Moose (pictured above). Plus, you guessed it, one of those used bookstore “eureka-finds” of William D. Berry: 1954-1956 Alaskan Field Sketches!

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Grizzly Bear Ursus arctos (2 of 11 pages devoted to Alaska’s bears).

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Bill’s fascination, and sometimes obsession, with recording the working processes of the natural world filled up most of his time….His joy in life came from observing and drawing living things; he saw amazing details in the most drab creature or place.  Elizabeth Berry

 

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For more on William D. Berry, be sure to visit the Berry Studio website!

Gary Snyder’s Practice of the Wild

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Lawrence Ferlinghetti called Gary Snyder the “Thoreau of the Beat Generation.” He’s that, and after a lifetime of poetry, prose, and teaching, he’s become much, much more. His poetry is steeped in the western landscape, but clearly has roots in the traditions of Buddhism, Chinese poetry, and haiku. His major works of prose (A Place in Space and The Practice of the Wild) celebrates the simple act of living in place, no matter where that might be.

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Some have called this poetry collection Gary Snyder’s most personal. It begins with the young poet ascending still dormant Mount St. Helens in 1945, a climb that coincided with the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

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Mountains and Rivers Without End is a book-length poem weaving geology, prehistory, myth, and worldwide spiritual traditions.

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Riprap was Snyder’s first book of poetry, published in 1959. This volume also includes his classic translations of Han Shan’s Cold Mountain Poems. We never pass by a copy of this wonderful book!

Gary Snyder has also collaborated with artist Tom Killion on two classic studies focused on particular landscapes:

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If you would like to learn more about Gary Snyder visit the indispensable Poetry Foundation website (it’s great!), and if you’re looking for a grand overview of his work, take a look at The Gary Snyder Reader: Prose, Poetry, and Translations, 1952-1998.

For now, here’s one of our favorite poems — enjoy!

For the Children

The rising hills, the slopes,
of statistics
lie before us.
the steep climb
of everything, going up,
up, as we all
go down.

In the next century
or the one beyond that,
they say,
are valleys, pastures,
we can meet there in peace
if we make it.

To climb these coming crests
one word to you, to
you and your children:

stay together
learn the flowers
go light

Gary Snyder, from Turtle Island

 

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

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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!

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

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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!

To See the World Anew

“Why do so many of us have bookshelves bending under the weight of yellow-spined copies of the magazine? It’s simple: we cannot bring ourselves to throw away such beautiful things. We know what has gone into their creation.” — Nigel Holmes, National Geographic Infographics.

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Here’s the latest addition to the Rocky Mountain Land Library’s always growing collection:  National Geographic Infographics, just published by Taschen.  This beautifully done oversize volume captures the top charts, diagrams, and maps from the National Geographic‘s past 128 years.

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What a timeless resource for artists, scientists, naturalists, and lifelong learners of all ages!

8bb9ddebc3fffce8f05fe3d2e32313e2This hefty tome is divided into seven sections: History, The Planet, Being Human, Animal Worlds, World of Plants, Science & Technology, and Space.

And there are many eye-opening surprises along the way:

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The recent work of National Geographic artists are well represented, but some of our favorite images come from the oldest, dustiest of the yellow-spined treasures:

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From natural history to the daring “futuristic” Mercury space capsule design:

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National Geographic has long helped us all see the world anew:

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Stay tuned for more Land Library new arrivals in 2017!

Cultivator of Words, Planter of Trees

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It’s always a thrill to add one more volume of W.S. Merwin’s poetry to the Land Library’s shelves. Our latest addition, What is a Garden? is a wonderful collaboration between Merwin’s words, and the vivid tropical images from photographer Larry Cameron.

Poet and environmentalist W.S. Merwin moved to Hawaii in 1976 and has spent the last forty years planting nineteen acres with more than 800 species of palm, creating a lush garden on a ruined former pineapple plantation.

PBS correspondent (and fellow poet) Jeffrey Brown visited W.S. Merwin at his Hawaii home, and captured the inspirational work of one of America’s greatest poets (& conservationists!):

 

 

For more on W.S. Merwin work in Hawaii, be sure to visit The Merwin Conservancy’s excellent website. Their mission is to preserve the living legacy of W.S. Merwin, his home and palm forest, for future retreat and study for botanists and writers, and for the benefit of environmental advocacy and community education.

I hope to be able to go on planting palms on this land for a long time, and I regard what has been done here so far as just a beginning….I hope that a future head gardener will have something of the same desire that I have had: to try to grow as many species as possible of the world’s palms….That is the abiding part of our hope that a Conservancy will want and will be able to save this bit of the Peahi streambed — what we have made here for those who come after us.” — W.S.Merwin

 

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W.S. Merwin is a two-time recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for poetry, winner of a National Book Award, and twice served as the United States Poet Laureate. Recently he was honored as the 2015 Champion of the Land by the Hawaiian Islands Land Trust.

The Poetry Foundation has much more on W.S. Merwin on their always informative website!

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!