The Story of the Land, from Headwaters to Plains

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You can sense the change of season at Buffalo Peaks Ranch. But just as the summer winds down at the Land Library’s headwaters site, we have exciting news to report back here in Denver. The Rocky Mountain Land Library will soon be opening it’s third place-based learning center at Denver’s old Puritan Pie Factory, located in the historic Curtis Park neighborhood. This urban branch is designed to help connect people to nature — not the distant natural history of our nearest National Parks, but the nearby nature of the neighborhoods where we all live.

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The Puritan Pie Factory at 26th & Champa.

We have two city-inspired collections that we are anxious to share, namely a Kids Nature Library (with thousands of books on bugs, birds, bats, and more), along with (what we’re calling) an Urban Homestead Library, featuring books on nature in the city, with many volumes on green-living, including hundreds of titles on edible landscaping, urban farming, beekeeping, raising chickens, and much, much more.

With thousands of books as an inspiring resource, the Purtian Pie Factory will be home to workshops and classes, nature clubs and activities for kids, neighborhood gatherings, plus artist & craft studios. If the community has a creative need, we would love for the Pie Factory to help fill it.

For instance:

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Some of our favorite books are on seeds (really!). Along with seed books, we’ll be setting up a Free Seed Library, much like this wonderful photo from the Manitou, Colorado Seed Library.

 

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How about a Teaching Kitchen for both kids & adults? Over the years we have noticed that the intersection of food & land is a perfect place to feel those connections we all have to nature and the land! (This fun photo is from the Organic Teaching Kitchen in New York).

Thanks to the visionary owners of the Puritan Pie Factory, so much is possible! Over the next few weeks & months we’ll all be learning more about the Pie Factory and the Curtis Park neighborhood. Who knows what new ideas and programs will emerge as we explore this amazing opportunity together!

Many of us are especially excited that the Pie Factory is already part of Denver’s Beat Tour. Just next door to the factory is the site of Neal Cassady’s boyhood home.

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We’re already stacking up our Beat books, everything from Jack Kerouac’s On the Road to Gary Snyder’s Riprap Poems!

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Let there be Pie! From Headwaters to Plains, from South Park to Curtis Park:

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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!

A Teachable Moment

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The surge of excellent bee book continues! Here’s two of the best, both from Great Britain, and both focused on the special challenges of beekeeping in the midst of busy city life: Keeping Bees in Towns and Cities by Luke Dixon, and Bees in the City: The Urban Beekeepers Handbook by Alison Benjamin and Brian McCallum.

So, here’s a question inspired by Luke Dixon’s Keeping Bees in Towns and Cities: What would you do if a swarm of bees descended upon your local school??

Small children and bees might not seem an obvious combination, but at Charlton Manor Primary in Greenwich they get on very well. The bees live in hives in the playground of this inner-city London school….

The headmaster, Tim Baker, took up beekeeping when a swarm came and attached itself to a wall next to the school’s main entrance. ‘There was panic from staff and calls to close the school,’ he recalls. ‘The children seemed very interested though. When it was collected I found out that the bees were very unlikely to sting when they swarm. I realized how little I and people around me knew about bees even though we had always taught the children that they were important. I was concerned that the lessons the children had got from that close-hand observation of the swarm was that bees were something to be feared.’ To dispel the message of fear, Tim set about finding training for himself and interested staff so that they could set up a hive on the school grounds.

The Next Generation of Beekeepers on Parade:

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There are many flowering plants in neighboring gardens, and there are parks nearby as well, so the bees are not short of forage. As an inner city school many of the pupils do not have access to gardens themselves, so the bees provide an important contact with nature for them….The headmaster is convinced that the bees are of great educational benefit: ‘There are a number of children with behavior issues in the school. They were given the chance to work with the bees. Their behavior has greatly improved and they delivered a talk to the local bee club at its annual general meeting.

Somehow, Bees Aren’t as Scary Anymore:

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The school started with one hive, raised queens, and now has two colonies. The honey harvested is bottled by the pupils and sold to raise money for the school.

As a nice bookend to this story, headmaster Tim Baker reports that another swarm arrived recently and everyone took it in stride. Two of the children helped collect the swarm, and the school’s hives grew by one!

There’s a magic about bees — especially their way of connecting people to the natural world. It’s as simple as that. As long as we’re able, the Land Library will honor these books by giving them a home on our shelves. Here’s two more brilliant bee books we’ve added over the past few months:

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Bees: A Natural History, by Christopher O’Toole, and from our Waterton Canyon Kids Nature Library, Honey Bees: Letters from the Hive by Stephen Buchmann, an excellent book for young adults, and older readers too.

Philip Currie & The Power of Books

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“I was only six years old when I ‘dug up’ my first dinosaur from the inside of a cereal box. The plastic model inspired my imagination in a powerful way that led to regular visits to the dinosaur galleries at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, Canada. Several times a week, I would go to Sixteen Mile Creek near my home to scramble up and down the cliffs of Ordovician sediments, collecting marine invertebrate fossils while I fantasized about discovering dinosaurs. I read (and reread) every book that was available to me about any fossils from anywhere. After reading All About Dinosaurs by Roy Chapman Andrews when I was 11 years old, I knew that I wanted to be a dinosaur hunter. Such is the power of the written word.”

From that start, Philip Currie went on to help found the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology, and is now a professor at the University of Alberta in Edmonton. He has worked extensively in China, and helped describe some of the first feathered dinosaurs. Philip is also the co-author of several books including The Flying Dinosaurs, and Dinosaur Provincial Park: A Spectacular Ancient Ecosystem Revealed.

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And here’s the book and author that inspired Philip Currie. Roy Chapman Andrews (1884-1960) was best known for leading a series of expeditions to Mongolia and the Gobi Desert — bringing home the first-known fossil dinosaur eggs. Eventually Andrews became the director of the American Museum of Natural History. He was also a prolific author for both adults and children.

Chet Raymo & The Power of Books

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Chet Raymo has long been a favorite of the Land Library. His writing offers a unique combination of science & spirituality — and what a beautiful writer! Here’s Chet Raymo on the roots of wonder:

“I have had occasion over the years to make reference to Dr. Suess, Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s The Little Prince, Lewis Carrol’s Alice books, Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows, Felix Salten’s Bambi, and other children’s books. In writing about science I have made reference to children’s books far more frequently than to adult literary works. This is not an accident. In children’s books we are at the roots of science — pure, childlike curiosity, eyes open with wonder to the fresh and new, and the powers of invention still unfettered by convention and expectation.”

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 Chet Raymo.

Next Week: Paleontologist Philip Currie and the Book that Shaped his Life

The Terribly Irresponsible Art of Poetry

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Here’s our favorite new book at the Land Library — Open the Door: How to Excite Young People About Poetry, edited by Dorothea Lasky, Dominic Luxford, and Jesse Nathan. This is an inspiring mix of essays, interviews, and lessons plans on how we can share the joy of poetry with kids of all ages. The editors describe their intent in their introduction:
“A call to action for poets who want to teach poetry in their communities, Open the Door is also a practical guide for those interested in developing their pedagogical skills, or even in setting up community poetry programs of their own.”

Open the Door includes an invaluable roundtable discussion with leaders of grassroot poetry organizations across the country, including Bob Holman of the Bowery Poetry Club, Megan McNamer of the Missoula Writing Collaborative, and Dave Eggers of 826 National, a network of nonprofit writing and tutoring centers that help students age six through eighteen to improve their writing skills.

The essay portion of Open the Door provides a jolt of new approaches as well, from authors such as Kenneth Koch, Ron Padgett, Jimmy Santiago Baca, and a poet we wrote about just last month. We are still stuck on the wonderful words of William Stafford:

Let’s face it, though — poetry will always be a wild animal. There is something about it that won’t yield to ordinary learning. When a poem catches you, it overwhelms, it surprises, it shakes you up. And often you can’t provide any usual explanation for its power.

For all of us in our careful role as educators, there is something humbling in the presence of the arts. There is no use thinking hard work and application and responsibility will capture poetry. It is something different. It cannot live in the atmosphere of competition, politics, business, advertising. Successful people cannot find poems. For you must kneel down and explore for them. They seep into the world all the time and lodge in odd corners almost anywhere, in your talk, in the conversation around you. They can be terribly irresponsible.” — William Stafford, from his essay The Door Called Poetry.

As the Land Library continues to plan for its urban learning center, Open the Door will remain close by. As will another idea-filled volume, Blueprints: Bringing Poetry into Communities, edited by Katharine Coles (also pictured above).

City Wild, and a few of our favorite books!

The citizen takes his city for granted far too often. He forgets to marvel.” — Carlos Fuentes

Good news! The Land Library continues to work toward opening a Urban Homestead Library in inner-city Denver, along with our second Kids and Educators Nature Library. We’ve been devoting more and more of our resources to find some of the best urban nature books available. These books are wonderful tools, and a powerful remedy for ever taking your home town for granted!

Books such as these, that help you learn about:

BIRDS, BEES…

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AND TREES!

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NEW NEIGHBORS…

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FOOD…

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and PLENTY OF FUN PLACES TO EXPLORE!

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For the rest of this month, we’ll be featuring many more books on nature in the city — all leading up to the April 27th Colorado premiere of the award-winning film The Legend of Pale Male:

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The Land Library is proud to be a co-sponsor of this benefit screening for The Bloomsbury Review, a national literary treasure that has been celebrating and promoting great writing since 1980. We’ll be celebrating two legends that night — The Bloomsbury Review, as it launches into its next chapter, and Pale Male, the famous red-tailed hawk of Central Park, now courting his eighth mate somewhere over midtown Manhattan!

WHEN & WHERE: Saturday, April 27th, 6:30pm at Denver’s Montview Presbyterian Church

For more information on the April 27th premiere, call 303-455-3123, or 800-783-3338, or visit The Bloomsbury Review website!

We hope you enjoy this inspiring film clip!