Zora Neale Hurston & The Power of Books


Inspired by books and stories, Zora Neale Hurston eventually found a way to stretch her limbs:

“In that box were Gulliver’s Travels, Grimm’s Fairy Tales, Dick Whittington, Greek and Roman Myths, and best of all, Norse Tales. Why did the Norse tales strike so deeply into my soul? I do not know, but they did. I seemed to remember seeing Thor swing his mighty short-handled hammer as he spread across the sky in rumbling thunder, lightning flashing from the tread of his steeds and the wheels of his chariot….That held majesty for me….

In a way this early reading gave me great anguish through all my childhood and early adolescence. My soul was with the gods and my body in the village. People just would not act like gods. Stew beef, fried fat-back and morning grits were no ambrosia from Valhalla. Raking back yards and carrying out chamber pots were not the tasks of Thor. I wanted to be away from drabness and to stretch my limbs in some mighty struggle.”

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 Zora Neale Hurston.

Next Week — Chet Raymo & the Roots of Wonder

Finding that One Place

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Last week’s post announced the April 27th Colorado premiere of The Legend of Pale Male, Frederic Lilien’s award-winning film celebrating the story of what happened when a red-tailed hawk (Pale Male) suddenly nests along the high-rise apartments surrounding New York City’s Central Park. The result: one of the best films we’ve ever seen on nature in the city!

A central character in Pale Male’s story is Charles Kennedy — naturalist, poet, and photographer. Marie Winn offers this personal insight in her book Central Park in the Dark: More Mysteries of Urban Wildlife: “When I first met him back in the early 1990’s, Charles was trying to become a birdwatcher. His goal was to find every bird mentioned in a book called Falconer of Central Park, and I think he was up to 65 out of the book’s 150 species on the day I ran into him. When a young red-tailed hawk arrived in the park a few months later, Charles put his list away. He had lost his heart to a single bird. That was when he and I began to follow Pale Male and the wildly successful nest on Fifth Avenue.”

Charles Kennedy’s red-tail essays and photographs are compiled in Pale Male & Family (pictured above, and thoughtfully edited by Steve Kennedy). Pale Male may have captured Charles Kennedy’s attention — but not all his attention. He was just as likely to drop to his knees to watch cicadas emerge, or spiders weaving their webs. Day turns to night, and Charles and his friends would lead nightly excursions into America’s greatest urban parks. Or as Charles Kennedy wrote:

the sun drops
the cold slides in
owl time

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Steve Kennedy, Charles’ nephew, has edited his uncle’s essays, haiku, and photography in the book Owls of Central Park. Steve writes in his introduction:

The last time I was with Charles was two weeks before he lost his battle with cancer. During that last quiet time together, what he most wanted to do was read to me from his newest compilation, his ‘owl book.’ He had engaged his friends in producing, by hand, large copies of the book — in part to keep them from focusing on his deteriorating health, and in part to make sure it was finished and available to his close network of friends and family. As Charles read his book about Central Park owls he charged me with tending to his large body of written and photographic work. So this book has a special place in my heart. It also is a favorite among Charles’ friends and acquaintances.

This memorial plaque can be found on a bench in Central Park, not far from where Pale Male flies to this very day:


Friends choose a particularly apt haiku from Charles Kennedy’s notebooks, to honor Charles’ many days (and nights) in a place he loved best.

Here’s a wonderful volume that preserves more of Charles Kennedy’s work:

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The Fish Jumps Out of the Moon: Haiku of Charles F. Kennedy, edited by Steve Kennedy and Dan Guenther.


Charles Kennedy’s books will be available for purchase at the Colorado premiere of The Legend of Pale Male (Saturday, April 27th, 6:30pm, at Denver’s Montview Presbyterian Church). All proceeds will benefit The Bloomsbury Review — a literary legend in its own right.

You’ll love the film’s trailer (below), and keep your eyes open for Charles Kennedy, always searching the skyline for the most famous red-tailed hawk in the world:

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

And for much more of Charles Kennedy, be sure to visit the beautifully done site, kennedyworks — exploring the life and works of charles francis kennedy.

Preserving a Quiet Place, and Our Earthly Roots


By making Florissant a national monument in 1969, the United States guaranteed protection to an important natural place, a quiet place where we can think about our earthly roots. Looking up, we can watch the kestrels dive like blue angels in search of grasshoppers, while we stand in the graveyard of a great fallen community — the Florissant ecosystem of the Eocene. Here, with the wonder of a child, we can take the mental journey back through the geologic ages.” — Estella Leopold

In the summer of 1969, one of the world’s premier fossil beds nearly became an A-frame housing subdivision. Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument was saved by a grassroots group of scientists, conservationists, and local ranchers, along with a precedent-setting legal team. As Estella Leopold, one of the founding members of the Defenders of Florissant, once commented, “How can a group of citizens take on the real estate establishment? Well…it’s love and science and good lawyers.

This Saturday, the Rocky Mountain Land Series (in partnership with the Aldo Leopold Foundation) is honored to welcome Estella Leopold, co-author of Saved in Time: The Fight to Establish Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument, Colorado — a first hand account of a classic environmental battle that has many lessons for today.

For details on Estella Leopold’s Land Series program, please click here!

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Estella Leopold’s co-author, Herbert W. Meyer, also wrote the classic work, The Fossils of Florissant — the subject of a truly memorable Land Series program in 2003.

If one of the pleasures in visiting Florissant is seeing the landscapes and imagining what they were like in outline 34 million years ago, what makes the experience so vivid is the incredible preservation of the fossil-bearing rocks themselves. It is a far different experience than looking at a set of hand-sized fossils on display in a glass cabinet.” — Estella Leopold

Forty years later, some of the early Defenders of Florissant return to what is now Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument — without an A-frame in sight:


Estella Leopold, Tom Lamm, former Governor Dick Lamm, Attorney Victor Yannacone, Jr., and Superintendent Keith Payne celebrating the 40th Anniversary of Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument.

The fight to save Florissant is one of Colorado’s greatest stories of conservation, grassroots activism, and devotion to the land. A land ethic that runs deep in the Leopold family, from Estella’s early days at her family’s Sand County shack:

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For much more on the Leopold’s ongoing legacy, be sure to visit the Aldo Leopold Foundation‘s website, which includes a special section on Estella Leopold.

See you all on Saturday!

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At the Sand County shack, 1939: rear: Aldo & Estella Leopold, Luna, Starker(kneeling); front: Nina, young Estella, and Gus, a treasured dog that has everyone’s attention.

The City Alive

mcsorleys'Up in the Old Hotel

The New York Times just reported some truly exciting and unexpected news. The New Yorker‘s next issue will feature a new essay by the legendary author Joseph Mitchell. The newly discovered “Street Life” is the first published work by Mitchell since 1964.

Joseph Mitchell, who died in 1996, was the great wandering and listening soul of New York City. True, you won’t find any of his titles at local Nature Centers, but his sketches of the urban scene shows us a writer immersed in his home landscape. From Fulton Fish Market to McSorley’s Saloon, Joseph Mitchell observed his given plot of land keenly and compassionately, like the ideal naturalist that he was. Back in 1992, his work, long out of print, was resurrected in a wonderful anthology, Up in the Old Hotel.

There are too many to choose from, but here’s one of our favorite passages from that collection:

The Rivermen, from Joseph Mitchell’s The Bottom of the Harbor

I often feel drawn to the Hudson River, and I have spent a lot of time through the years poking around the part of it that flows past the city. I never get tired of looking at it; it hypnotizes me. I like to look at it in midsummer, when it is warm and dirty and drowsy, and I like to look at it in January, when it is carrying ice. I like to look at it when it is stirred up, when a northeast wind is blowing and a strong tide is running — a new-moon tide or a full-moon tide — and I like to look at it when it is slack. It is exciting to me on weekdays, when it is crowded with ocean craft, harbor craft, and river craft, but it is the river itself that draws me, and not the shipping, and I guess I like it best on Sundays, when there are lulls as long as a half an hour, during which, all the way from the Battery to the George Washington Bridge, nothing moves upon it, not even a ferry, not even a tug, and it becomes as hushed and dark and secret and remote and unreal as a river in a dream.

The success of Up in the Old Hotel led many publishers to reprint Mitchell’s earlier books:

My Ears Are Bent, a collection of Joseph Mitchell’s earliest (pre-New Yorker) pieces, mostly from the 1930’s. Old Mr. Flood, a slim volume centered on the comings and goings of Manhattan’s Fulton Fish Market.

And two of his all-time classic collections: The Bottom of the Harbor, and McSorley’s Wonderful Saloon.

The Rocky Mountain Land Library will always have these books on our shelves, for the simple fact that Joseph Mitchell is one of the greatest writers of people and place that we know!

In the last few days, New Yorker editor David Remnick commented on the exciting find of new writings from Mitchell’s pen: “What’s so poignant about [the excerpts] is the sadness of the incompletion but the brilliance of the voice. There’s an ambition in the voice; the voice is becoming more Joycean. He’s looking outward, but all of these pieces are very interior. He’s at the center of it.


When things get too much for me, I put a wild-flower book and a couple of sandwiches in my pockets and go down to the South Shore of Staten Island and wander around awhile in one of the old cemeteries down there.” the opening passage of the classic Mr. Hunter’s Grave, from The Bottom of the Harbor.

Rachel Carson’s Witness to Nature

young Rachel Carsonrachel carson photo

Rachel Carson: Witness for Nature by Linda Lear
By age 11, Rachel Carson was a published author, with the appearance of A Battle in the Clouds in St. Nicholas Magazine. She always wanted to be a writer, though her subsequent life pulled her in many other directions. Linda Lear tells a compelling story of Rachel Carson’s early career as a marine biologist, and her sudden emergence as a bestselling author with the 1951 publication of The Sea Around Us.
But the most dramatic period lay ahead, culminating in the landmark book, Silent Spring, and her ensuing battles with the pesticide industry. She bore these responsibilities well, despite a series of health setbacks that made Silent Spring an excruciating labor. (Paul Brooks, Rachel’s editor, counted it as a miracle that the book was ever published).

Rachel Carson: Witness for Nature recounts the trials of Rachel Carson’s life, but also the great joys: her love of nature and the sea — and her constant sense of wonder (and obligation) that never diminished.

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Rachel Carson will always be an indispensable author for the Rocky Mountain Land Library. We have a complete set of her books, along with several biographies for readers of all ages!

Linda Lear bookamy ehrlichthomas locker

Rachel Carson: Witness for Nature by Linda Lear, Rachel: The Story of Rachel Carson by Amy Ehrlich & Wendell Minor, Rachel Carson: Preserving a Sense of Wonder by Thomas Locker & Joseph Bruchac

There will be a way, there will be a light

elder obataobata's yosemite

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:

internmenttopaz moonutah desert & mts
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!

Haruko & Chiura

Haruko & Chiura Obata, San Francisco, 1912.

Edna Lewis and a Tradition Preserved

bring me some applesedna portrait

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:

high on the hogsouthern foodways
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)