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!

This Just In: White House Kitchen Garden Wins Second Term

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We posted this piece back on May 25th. In the midst of harvest season, and at the end of a hard-fought campaign, we wanted to take another glimpse at Michelle Obama’s new book!

We were prepared to not like this book, thinking it might be a photo-rich, thin-on-substance look at kitchen gardens and healthy food. Well, were we ever wrong! A preview copy of Michelle Obama’s first book just came across our desk, and we’ve spent the morning paging through it. American Grown: The Story of the White House Kitchen Garden and Gardens Across America is definitely photo-rich (the images are wonderful, especially the ones with visiting schoolkids), but this book goes into impressive detail chronicling the history of kitchen gardens in America, and tells scores of inspiring stories about contemporary backyard, school and community gardens across the country.

The White House Kitchen Garden is a very visible piece to a larger national effort. In February 2010, Michelle Obama launched Let’s Move!, a nationwide initiative to fight the epidemic of childhood obesity by bringing healthier food into schools and encouraging kids to get outside, and be more active.

American Grown hits the bookstore shelves on Tuesday, May 29th. Spend a glorious Memorial Day weekend planting your own seeds outside, but find time to watch these fun film clips of the White House Kitchen Garden, from its first planting in 2009, through all the subsequent harvests. Then, on Tuesday, storm your local bookstore for a copy of this wonderful book!

Most of you know how much the Land Library loves books on bees, beekeeping, and honey. And so, we couldn’t resist adding this quick clip:

There’s so much good work being done, and so much more to do. The Land Library hopes to establish it’s second Kids Nature Library, this time in inner-city Denver. And we have more than enough books to launch a truly unique Urban Homestead Library for Denver families, gardeners, urban farmers, beekeepers, and the like. Help us make it happen!

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For more on White House food initiatives, check out this website with a name you won’t want to forget!

Obama Foodorama: The Blog of Record About White House Food Initiatives, From Policy to Pie

There will be a way, there will be a light

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One of the most moving parts of Ken Burns’ recent PBS series on the National Parks, focused on the Japanese-American artist Chiura Obata, and his life long devotion to Yosemite and the High Sierra. Obata’s first trip to Yosemite in 1927 marked the rest of his life’s work. If you have five minutes to spare please take a look at the PBS clip posted below. It swept us up with feelings of hope and a real admiration for people who fall head-over-heels for a particular landscape.
Seeing Ken Burns’ sensitive portrait had us reaching for a few books off the Land Library’s shelves. For more on Chiura Obata, an excellent volume (full of his sumi ink paintings, watercolors, and woodblock prints) is Obata’s Yosemite: The Art and Letters of Chiura Obata from his trip to the High Sierra in 1927.

In some ways, perhaps even more remarkable is the following book, which tells the story of the Obata family’s internment during World War II. Not to be undone, Obata organized Art Schools in each camp he was sent to, and personally produced a remarkable body of work:

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Chiura Obata’s alien registration card, Topaz Moon: Chiura Obata’s Art of the Internment, edited by Kimi Kodani Hill, Moonlight over Topaz, 1942.

And here’s a very special book, from our Waterton Canyon Kids Library:

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Evening Glow of Yosemite Falls, 1930, Nature Art with Chiura Obata by Michael Elsohn Ross, Death’s Grave Pass & Tenaya Peak, 1930

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Obata teaching a children’s art class, Tanforan Detention Center, California, August 1942.

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Upper Lyell Fork, near Lyell Glacier, Lake Basin in the High Sierra.

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Chiura Obata sketching in the High Sierra, along with untitled painting.

It’s hard not to be inspired by Obata’s life story, and the work he produced. We also love what he wrote in 1965: “You must always see with a big vision, and if you keep your mind calm there will be a way, there will be a light.

Please enjoy this wonderful clip!

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Haruko & Chiura Obata, San Francisco, 1912.

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.

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. This is 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 these:
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In Pursuit of Flavor, and The Taste of Country Cooking, of which, Craig Claiborne wrote that it “may well be the most entertaining regional cookbook in America“.

Food traditions have long been a happy obsession at the Land Library. Here’s two of our favorites volumes:

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High on the Hog: A Culinary Journey From Africa to America by Jessica B. Harris, and The Southern Foodways Alliance Community Cookbook, edited by Sara Roahen and John T. Edge.

Edna Lewis was the co-founder of the Society for the Revival and Preservation of Southern Food, a precursor to the Southern Foodways Alliance. For more on their ongoing work be sure to visit their website!

And for more on the great topic of food traditions, here are a few of our earlier posts!

Recalling Voices, Tastes, and Traditions (on the great variety of ethic kitchens)

From the Bronx Seedless Grape to the Paiute Tepary Bean: The Food Nations of North America (featuring one of the best books we know!)

The Taste of Place (Rowan Jacobsen’s American Terroir, and more)