Under the Cottonwood Tree

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This past Sunday we held our 3rd Annual Summer Book Club discussion at Buffalo Peaks Ranch. We all gathered by the Main House’s cottonwood tree to discuss Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac, widely considered one of the most influential conservation books of the 20th Century.

Leopold describes the need for a land ethic, seeing the natural world “as a community to which we belong.” This classic book is also a beautifully written story of one man coming to know the land on which he lives. As the Land Library continues to learn more and more about our immediate surroundings (Buffalo Peaks Ranch) it seemed like a perfect book club selection for this summer.

Special thanks goes to Candice Hall for kindly sharing these beautiful images from our 2017 Summer Book Club gathering!

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Under the cottonwood tree, an inviting array of Leopold books, sitting atop one of the Leopold Benches Land Library volunteers built a couple of summers ago.

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After his long career in the National Park Service, and a lifetime of reading and being out on the land, Tom Wylie always adds an interesting perspective….

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along with offering up illuminating passages, copied into one of Tom’s notebooks.

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True to Aldo Leopold’s amazingly observant writing, Candice Hall spent time roaming across the ranch on Sunday. Taking photos out by the Lambing Barn….

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amidst the high sage by the Bunkhouse, and looking up valley too:

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What a perfect setting to experience the always evolving thoughts of Aldo Leopold, and to contemplate the need for a land ethic for our own time.

“All ethics so far evolved rest upon a single premise: that the individual is a member of a community of interdependent parts. The land ethic simply enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soils, water, plants and animals, or collectively the land.”  Aldo Leopold, from A Sand County Almanac

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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!

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

 

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!

A Hard Beauty and the Strong Bonds of Respect

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“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!

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!

On the Honey Trail with Eva Crane

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Trained as a nuclear physicist, world renowned bee expert Eva Crane is easily one of the most intriguing and accomplished figures who have found their way onto the Land Library’s shelves. Her sudden shift from quantums to bees came on the occasion of her wedding in 1942. Among the wedding presents that day was a working beehive — a thoughtful gift meant to help the young couple cope with stingy wartime sugar rations. That it did, but it also set Eva on a lifelong fascination with bees, beekeeping and honey hunting.

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For the next fifty years Eva Crane visited over sixty countries on the trail of the honey bee. Her travels yielded over 180 papers, articles and books, culminating in The World History of Beekeeping and Honey Hunting (pictured above), a hefty tome that Paul Theroux called a masterpiece “for its enormous scope and exhaustiveness, and for being an up-to-date treasure house of apiaristic facts.

Eva Crane’s passion and dedication went beyond her own work. She founded one of the leading institutions of the beekeeping world, the International Bee Research Association. After her death in 2007, the IBRA published a special tribute to its founder, Eva Crane Bee Scientist, 1912-2007, the latest (but hopefully not the last) Eva Crane volume added to the Land Library’s shelves!

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As this black & white photo shows, though scholarly by nature, Eva Crane was no stranger to the intricate workings of the hive. Also pictured above are two classic works by Crane: The Archaeology of Beekeeping (1983) and Bees and Beekeeping: Science, Practice and World Resources (1990).

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And here’s the very first Eva Crane book the Land Library was lucky enough to find. We were in search of good books on rock art to add to our collection, and, lo and behold, in a dusty bookshop in New York’s Lower East Side we came upon Eva Crane’s The Rock Art of Honey Hunters, a fascinating study of over 150 sites across the globe!

For more on honey hunting, take a look at one of our earlier posts:

The Ancient Art of Honey Hunting