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

The Emergence of Woodchucks & Thoreau for Our Time

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In the early 1850s Thoreau committed himself more fully than ever to his journal. At the time of his death, he had written two million words in this private storehouse, filling seven thousand pages in forty-seven volumes between October 1837 and November 1861. He came to realize that his most important task was attending the natural phenomena of everyday life, and at one point he half-jokingly complained that his observations were becoming more scientific and less poetic….He created a huge calendar of annual natural events, recording the first blossoming of wildflowers and the return of migrating birds, the emergence of woodchucks and the duration of snowstorms.” — from Michael Sims’ The Adventures of Henry Thoreau

It’s astounding to think of the legacy Henry David Thoreau left us, after only forty-four short years on the earth he loved so well. Thoreau lives on, and he always will on the Land Library’s shelves!

In the past few months we were thrilled to add two more books to our Thoreau collection. Both volumes bring a fresh new Thoreau to our worried age of climate change and nature-deficit disorder. We learn about the always aspiring, sometimes faltering writer (and sharp-eyed naturalist) in Michael Sims’ The Adventures of Henry Thoreau: A Young Man’s Unlikely Path to Walden Pond. Sims’ goal is to “find Henry” rather than “applaud Thoreau”, and that he does. Rebecca Solnit writes: “The closest you’ll ever get to going on a walk with Thoreau is reading this book.”

While Thoreau walked he observed and meticulously recorded nature’s details — to an extent we never fully appreciated until reading Richard Primack’s Walden Warming: Climate Change Come to Thoreau’s Woods (also pictured above). Primack is one of the current-day scientists who are mining Thoreau’s journals and daily logs for clues to the creeping climate crisis we all face. Primack, professor of biology at Walden’s near neighbor, Boston University, writes:

In the past, Thoreau directly called our attention to the issues of protecting nature, ending slavery and unjust war, and the need for simple living. Today his journals and his unfinished calendar of nature can give us further insights. His records of plant flowering times at Walden Pond and in one small town in Massachusetts convey a much larger truth. The changing climate is already affecting the plant life that forms the base of the food web upon all life depends.

And so Thoreau’s legacy takes on an even deeper significance.

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A library can’t have too many editions of Thoreau’s classic book, but one of our favorites is Jeffrey Cramer’s annotated Walden. Thoreau is a strong presence at our Waterton Canyon Kids Nature Library too. We especially love Steven Schnur’s Henry David’s House.

No matter where you live, urban or rural, we all have our own Walden Pond. Attention, and devotion, is all!

I frequently tramped eight or ten miles through the deepest snow to keep an appointment with a beech-tree, or a yellow birch, or an old acquaintance among the pines.” from Walden

Cesar Chavez Day 2014

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Robert F. Kennedy called Cesar Chavez “one of the heroic figures of our time.” Chavez founded and led the first successful farm workers union in the country — the United Farm Workers of America— giving migrant workers a voice against a powerful agricultural industry. Throughout his life Chavez fought for social justice, better pay, and safer working conditions. The tools he used were the nonviolent ones of strikes, fasting, and boycotts.

Just in time for this coming Monday’s Cesar Chavez Day is the first comprehensive biography of this visionary leader — Miriam Pawel’s The Crusades of Cesar Chavez. Author Peter Matthiessen, one of the first to write about Chavez, comments: “Miriam Pawel’s new biography, massively researched and expertly written, is a welcome expansion and enrichment of her earlier study, The Union of Their Dreams. Together they represent the definitive story of this charismatic farmworker and controversial leader whose courage and near-genius invigorated the stormy history of American labor.”

Also pictured above: John Gregory Dunne’s insightful look at Chavez and his movement’s first days. Delano: The Story of the California Grape Strike takes us back to September 1965, when Filipino and Mexican American farm workers went on strike against grape growers in Delano, California.

Food, land, and social justice — just a few reasons why the Land Library devotes a full section to the story of Cesar Chavez and the movement he ignited — full of books such as these:

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The Fight in the Fields: Cesar Chavez and the Farmworkers Movement by Susan Ferriss & Ricardo Sandoval, Voices from the Fields: Children of Migrant Farmworkers Tell Their Stories by S. Beth Atkins, Sal Si Puedes (Escape if You Can): Cesar Chavez and the New American Revolution by Peter Matthiessen

And here’s a few inspiring titles from our Waterton Canyon Kids Library:

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First Day in Grapes by L. King Perez & Robert Castilla, Harvesting Hope: The Story of Cesar Chavez by Kathleen Krull & Yuyi Morales, The Circuit: Stories from the Life of a Migrant Child by Francisco Jimenez

Harvesting Stories at Masumoto Family Farm

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This is a very special book, not just because it’s about peaches and the surprising things you can do with them, but because it’s also about growing peaches, the farming life, and most uniquely, because it’s composed by a family.” — Deborah Madison

Masumoto Family Farm is a fourth-generation family farm located twenty miles south of Fresno, in the heart of California’s great Central Valley. Over the years, the Land Library has happily followed the farm’s progress through the pages of David Mas Masumoto’s many books, starting with Epitaph for a Peach, and most recently Wisdom of the Last Farmer.

Now along comes one of our favorite new books of the year — The Perfect Peach: Recipes and Stories from the Masumoto Family Farm by Marcy, Nikiko, and David Mas Masumoto. Here’s Mas and Marcy’s daughter Nikiko describing their brilliantly conceived book:

Just to be clear, we Masumotos have an agenda. We want more people to love peaches. This book is part of our ongoing attempt to share our love with a wider audience. We want to empower everyone to cook and eat peaches. You will find recipes, essays, snippets of stories, and kitchen tips woven throughout this book. We think of it as a literary cookbook. Our desire is that you will savor reading it in two ways. We hope that you will enjoy our recipes and that they contribute to wonderful shared meals and your own creation in your home kitchen. We also hope that you enjoy parts of the book like a novel — a way to learn about farming from the voices of people who actually work the earth and understand more about the realities we live while growing peaches…

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The authors of The Perfect Peach: Mas, Nikiko, and Marcy Masumoto

The recipes in The Perfect Peach have us counting the days before Colorado’s first harvest — time enough to dream about prosciutto-wrapped peaches, peach salsa, pizza with grilled peaches, peach liqueur, peach pie, peach cobbler, and of course, peach shortcake:

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I ate my first homemade shortcake at my grandma’s house. I remember loving the hearty biscuit-style cake that contrasted perfectly with the sweet strawberries. My version of peach shortcake follows in this tradition: the biscuit is more substantive than it is sweet, which provides the perfect excuse for eating this shortcake for breakfast or dessert. I suppose that there are some things that we inherit without knowing it. I am grateful for how my grandmother’s cooking wisdom remains in my life.” — Nikiko Masumoto

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With the Land Library’s strong focus on people and the land, Mas Masumoto’s earlier books form the heart and soul of our collection. Mas’s books are essential, especially books such as these:

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Four Seasons in Five Senses: Things Worth Savoring, and Harvest Son: Planting Roots in American Soil

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Heirlooms: Letters from a Peach Farmer, and Wisdom of the Last Farmer: Harvesting Legacies from the Land.

And here’s a book trailer for Wisdom of the Last Farmer, which includes a terrific visual tour of the Masumoto Family Farm!

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The Masumoto Family: Korio, Nikiko, Mas, Marcy, and two of their most essential partners.

along with a second short film clip, with Mas in the orchard, tasting a peach:

For more on The Perfect Peach and the Masumoto Family Farm, be sure to visit their website!

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The eighty-acre organic farm currently grows seven peach varieties and three nectarine varieties on twenty-five acres. Raisens are grown on thirty-five acres, and the remaining acres are now part of a wild farm program, a nice way of saying “open” land. The critters love it; all farms should have something wild.” — Mas Masumoto