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!

Your Trail Guide to the Rocky Mountain Land Library

South Park's Buffalo Peaks Ranch, future home of the Rocky Mountain Land Library's global collection of books on people and the land -- from the Arctic to the African savannas.
South Park’s Buffalo Peaks Ranch, future home of the Rocky Mountain Land Library’s global collection of books on people and the land — from the Arctic to the African savannas.

We find our place in the world through land and stories, and the Rocky Mountain Land Library unites our passion for both.” — Mark Fiege, author of The Republic of Nature: An Environmental History of the United States

Books are the tools we love best. They have a way of connecting people across the globe, and over the centuries. Books help us discover and celebrate the beauty of our improbable blue world. And books provide us with the tools we all need to live lighter on the land.

Our webpages (listed above) describes the Land Library’s books, programs, and the emerging Headwaters to Plains Network — a series of book-lined spaces, encouraging discovery, quiet thought, creative pursuits, and active community involvement.

Over the years, our website has also featured posts on some of the books that excite us to no end. You’ll also see that we report on the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity we all have to restore a historic Colorado ranch. Set in the high mountain grasslands of South Park, Buffalo Peaks Ranch will soon be the headwater site of a residential library — a place where you can come and stay for as long as you like.

Read about concrete corral stalls given new life as artist studios, our plans for a Land Library for inner-city Denver, complete with its very own Seed Library.

But as you’ll see from many years of web posts, we are happiest when reporting on books inspired by a sense of wonder, and hopeful for an even brighter future ahead.

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Stay tuned for much more from the Land Library in the months ahead!

The Rocky Mountain Land Library is like a gene bank for words, it’s our way of saving the past for the future. — David Mas Masumoto, farmer and author.

For more information on the Rocky Mountain Land Library, please contact jeff@landlibrary.org, 2550 W. 39th Avenue, Denver, CO 80211 (office location), 303-321-3574

Pleasing Work, Stacked High & Dry

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“Here it comes at last. The cold time. The great time….Time to take a stroll out to the woodpile and get started.” — Lars Mytting, Norwegian Wood

Published in 2011, Lars Mytting’s Hel Ved (Solid Wood) spent more than a year on Norway’s bestseller list. Next week, this wonderfully written book arrives in the States, under its new and very descriptive title, Norwegian Wood: Chopping, Stacking and Drying Wood the Scandinavian Way.

Earlier in his distinguished writing career, Lars Mytting wrote three novels, with the most recent receiving Norway’s National Bookseller Award. With Norwegian Wood (a bit of a departure), Mytting lends his poetic voice to an in-depth exploration of stacking logs, drying wood, and all the fire-burning elements that keeps us warm.

Norwegian Wood offers time-tested tools and techniques of turning wood to fire. Along the way we meet real people who, year after year, work diligently for the winter ahead:

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Ole Haugen, Elga, Norway: “Ole is the kind of man who would rather sing the praises of others than his own. His stacks, he says, are simply practical constructions that do the job. But seventy years of experience tell their own story. The ends of his stack are so neat it looks as though the whole thing had been trimmed on both sides with a huge circular saw. Not a single log has been laid crosswise. Even twisted logs have found their places in the stack, without compromising the stability of the whole.
My method is very simple. I do the chopping, splitting, and stacking in small doses. That way I don’t get too stiff, and the wood doesn’t lie long on the ground. The secret of an even woodpile is to learn the trick of knowing what sizes you need to make a stable structure….And I also allow for the fact that the wood is going to shrink a little as it dries, so I build in a slight inward lean against a support, so the stack won’t topple forward that easily.’” — from Norwegian Wood.

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Every man looks at his wood-pile with a kind of affection. I love to have mine before my window, and the more chips around the better to remind me of my pleasing work.Henry David Thoreau

Known as the beehive or the Holzhausen, the round stack is an outstanding form of woodpile once widely used in Norway, but now almost obsolete. It is not easy to make, and if it starts to collapse the whole thing goes. But a successful round pile has much to recommend it. It makes good use of the available space and can accommodate twisted wood, and, if it’s properly constructed, rainwater will run off the outside so it does not need a top covering.” — from Norwegian Wood

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Brute survival, but an artist’s touch as well: one of the many sculpture stacks that pop up in rural Norway during the spring. This angler’s dream was stacked in Drevsjo by Bjare Granli.

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But of course the true test of all the hard work of chopping, stacking, and drying, is how warm and content you will be throughout the long winter. Author Lars Mytting seems very comfortable in his writing den.

One last note: With logs stacked high for a warm winter at home, just make sure you have enough books to last the long nights ahead:
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Fuel for the soul: like wood piled for the winter, the Rocky Mountain Land Library’s book stacks, carefully arranged in a non-toppling, Norwegian way. We hope Ole Haugen would approve. (Land Library storage site, February 2012)

Stanzas & Stones

A tent full of poets, with Mount Silverheels up valley.
Our poet’s tent, with Mount Silverheels up valley.

It’s been a memorable couple of weeks, as the Land Library hosted our first two workshops at Buffalo Peaks Ranch. We led off with a day-long poetry workshop taught by Jodie Hollander (author of The Humane Society). It was such a beautiful day for an outdoor class!

A quiet moment toward the end of the day as folks spread across the ranch to write a few lines inspired by the day's workshop.
A quiet moment toward the end of the day as folks spread across the ranch to write a few lines inspired by the day’s workshop.

The ranch provides plenty of quiet places to sit, think, and imagine. The ranch, and the entire South Park region, provides everyone such a powerful learning landscape. Something that we definitely enjoyed this past weekend, as we followed Vince Matthews on an eye-opening geological field trip across South Park:

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Before hitting the road, we all gathered on the front porch, as former Colorado State Geologist Vince Matthews prepared us for all that we would soon see in the field.

Man in Black: Vince Matthews describing the importance of the Pierre Shale to valley formation in South Park.
Man in Black: Vince Matthews describing the importance of the Pierre Shale to valley formation in South Park.

Little by little, the landscape of South Park became clearer, with layers of sheer wonder — like staring up at a star-filled sky.

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Reading the Rock Record: our hardy group huddles up by the story-filled road cut atop Red Hill Pass.

Vince pointing out a truly impressive lateral moraine -- evidence of South Park's extensive glacial history.
Vince pointing out a truly impressive lateral moraine — evidence of South Park’s extensive glacial history.

Thanks to Jodie Hollander, Vince Matthews, and all attendees, the Land Library is fired up for even more classes and programs in 2016!

But for now, we have one more workshop scheduled for this season: The Illustrated Journal, taught by artist Sherrie York. Maybe we’ll see you in September?

A Landscape Transformed

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Historic fires are sweeping across large parts of California as we post this piece, and all signs point to a very active fire season in the Far West.

Given the central role of fire in shaping the Western landscape, the Land Library long ago committed to building as strong a collection of fire-related titles as possible. Luckily, early on, we realized that the work of environmental historian Stephen Pyne was the place to begin as we pieced together our collection. Stephen Pyne spent fifteen seasons as a firefighter on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, between 1967 and 1981. Since that first-hand experience, Pyne has written over a dozen books on fire, including two comprehensive classics, pictured above: Fire in America: A Cultural History of Wildland and Rural Fire, and World Fire: The Culture of Fire on Earth.

And here’s three more books from Stephen Pyne:

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Fire on the Rim: A Firefighter’s Season at the Grand Canyon (Pyne’s own memoir), Vestal Fire: An Environmental History, Told Through Fire, of Europe and Europe’s Encounter with the World, Smokechasing (a collection of over thirty fire-related essays).

For more on fire, the Land Library strongly recommends the following volumes from our shelves:

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Fire Ecology in Rocky Mountain Landscapes by William L. Baker, Forgotten Fires: Native Americans and the Transient Wilderness by Omer C. Stewart (a history of Native American use of fire to manage plant and animal communities).

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Two Classic Accounts of Historic Western Fires: Young Men and Fire, Norman Maclean’s account of the tragic 1949 Mann Gulch, Montana fire (a book that occupied the last fourteen years of Maclean’s life), The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt & the Fire That Saved America, Timothy Egan’s riveting account of the massive 1910 Blow-Up. The Big Burn also supplies a concise history of the early days of the U.S. Forest Service, under the leadership of the remarkable Gifford Pinchot.

But, after the fires die down, what comes next??

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Thanks to adventuresome seeds and spores, life comes back after most wildland fires. The Land Library’s latest acquisition presents the story of forest recovery following a major Australian conflagration: Forest Phoenix: How a Great Forest Recovers After Wildfire by David Lindenmayer, et.al.

Reading South Park’s Landscape

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Grab your pack, and dust off your boots! On Saturday, August 8th, Colorado’s former State Geologist Vince Matthews will lead the Land Library’s very first geology field trip. We’ll all meet at Buffalo Peaks Ranch, and then it’s off to explore the western front of South Park. Along the way, we’ll look for tracks of ancient glaciers, find ample evidence of volcanic activity, and discover why the Mosquito Range is one of the richest sections of the famed Colorado Mineral Belt.

Vince Matthews is also the author of the award-winning book Messages in Stone: Colorado’s Colorful Geology, and frequently posts on high mountain geology on his Leadville Geology facebook page.

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Image from: Panoramic Aerial Maps of the American West — a bird’s-eye view from the north, centered on South Park’s vast high mountain basin, surrounded by ranges on almost all sides. Buffalo Peaks Ranch is located virtually in the center of South Park. (A further navigational aid: Pikes Peak is the snow-covered outlier in the center of the top left quadrant of the above image).

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Join us on August 8th, and learn something new about the always surprising landscape of South Park! For much more on Vince Matthew’s field trip, Reading South Park’s Landscape, and how to register, please click here.

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For a larger image of this handy South Park cross-section, be sure to click on the image above.

The Ocean & the Stars

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Human lives are intimately entwined with plankton. Every breath we take is a gift of oxygen from the plankton. In fact photosynthetic bacteria and protists produce as much oxygen as all the forests and terrestrial plants combined. And for the last three billion years, phytoplankton have absorbed huge amounts of carbon dioxide. Plankton regulate the productivity and acidity of the ocean through the carbon cycle, and exert a major influence on climate.” — from Plankton: Wonders of the Drifting World

Fundamental to life on Earth, plankton are also eerily beautiful, and represent a virtually unknown cosmos in our midst. Christian Sardet’s Plankton: Wonders of the Drifting World is the most visually exciting book we have come across in a very long time. Go slowly, page by page, and a pure sense of wonder will fill you to the brim. Much like gazing at the stars — or viewing the astounding images from the Hubble Space Telescope. In the interest of both science and poetry, Plankton needs to be on the same Land Library shelf with the forthcoming The Hubble Cosmos: 25 Years of New Vistas in Space!

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Plankton Mandala: This image from Christian Sardet’s book depicts more than 200 different kinds of plankton. In the upper part of the mandala are the largest creatures of zooplankton: jellyfish, siphonophores, ctenophores, salps. In the center are a mix of chaetognaths, annelids, mollusks, and crustaceans. Also included are larvae and juveniles. The lower part of the image shows microscopic organisms (measuring less than 1mm), mostly single-cell protists: radiolarians, foraminifera, diatoms, and dinoflagellates.

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Just one of thousands of images from the Hubble Space Telescope: Supernova Remnant: SNR 0519.

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Planktonic Juveniles: including the red-blotched squid, Loligo vulgaris.

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From the chapter, Worms and Tadpoles: Arrows, Tubes and Nets.

John Steinbeck had this to say about tide pools. He could have been talking about the wide open ocean as well:

It is advisable to look from the tide pool to the stars and then back to the tide pool again.

For more on the Plankton Chronicles Project visit their photo-filled website, or view many short film clips on Christian Sardet’s YouTube channel!

Our wonderful immersion in the drifting world of plankton had us reaching for one of our favorite books to leaf through:

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For more on Ernst Haeckel and the patterns of nature, have a look at a book-filled post from a few years back:

The Smooth Feel of a Sea Shell

Water in the West & Beyond

Water, so common on our lucky blue planet, will always remain a mysterious substance — one that inspires gratitude, wonder, conflict and concern. Given the global importance of this increasingly limited resource, the Land Library is always excited to add another important volume to its water collection. Books such as these:

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Enduring Acequias: Wisdom of the Land, Knowledge of the Water by Juan Esevan Arellano. The word acequia has its roots in the arid Middle East. This insightful work pays homage to like cultures across the globe, especially New Mexico’s time-honored irrigation system that balances the needs of community with the limits of water in the West.
Also pictured above: Kurt Fausch’s For the Love of Rivers: A Scientist’s Journey, with streamside reports from the Rocky Mountains to Japan’s Hokkaido Island. (“With deft storytelling and poetic prose, Kurt Fausch conveys the mystery and magic of flowing waters.” — Sandra Postel).

And just published, here’s two more good books on water in the West:

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Trout Culture: How Fly Fishing Forever Changed the Rocky Mountain West, a fascinating environmental history by Jen Corrinne Brown, and Rivers, Fish and the People: Tradition, Science, and Historical Ecology of Fisheries in the American West, a collection of Pacific Northwest studies, edited by Pei-Lin Yu, combining both traditional knowledge and recent scientific discoveries.

So there you have it, the most recent handful of essential books for a Western Watershed Library. One that we are planning to locate here:

The Lambing Barn at Buffalo Peaks Ranch, along the Middle Fork of the South Platte River. (photo by Berry Oliver)
The Lambing Barn at Buffalo Peaks Ranch, along the Middle Fork of the South Platte River. (photo by Berry Oliver)

With Buffalo Peaks Ranch lying so close to the South Platte River’s headwaters, water will always be a central theme to the Land Library’s resources and programs. Our planned River Hut will house a Watershed Library, full of books focused on one of the next century’s most critical natural resources.

We have been diligently gathering books on water in the American West, but we’ll also have water-related books from across the globe, including these two from Great Britain:

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Simon Cooper’s Life of a Chalkstream, a lyrical look at one of England’s natural treasures: over 150 streams flowing wide, shallow and clear, thanks to the natural filter of headwater chalk hills. Plus: a British natural history classic, H. E. Bates’ Down the River, a journey along the River Nene and the River Ouse, full of flora, fauna, not to mention the keenly observed life of villages along the way.

For more on Buffalo Peaks Ranch’s future Watershed Library, take a glance at one of our past posts — full of wonderful books that will soon find a home on the banks of the South Platte River!

Headwaters to Plains, and Across the Globe

A Hayloft Full of Hope

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Jean Giono once wrote: “There are times in life when a person has to rush off in pursuit of hopefulness.” Well, whenever the Rocky Mountain Land Library rushes off it’s usually in pursuit of good land-inspired books to add to its 32,000 volume collection. After all, we have a hayloft to fill at Buffalo Peaks Ranch, along with plans for a book-lined space for inner-city Denver, part of our Headwaters to Plains Learning Network.

Here’s a glimpse at a few of the Land Library’s latest arrivals:

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Two Guides to Western Wildlands: David Gessner’s All the Wild That Remain: Edward Abbey, Wallace Stegner, and the American West, plus George Constantz’s Ice, Fire, and Nutcrackers: A Rocky Mountain Ecology, a wonderful introduction to the spine of the continent.

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Wildlife Studies from Across the Globe: Wolves on the Hunt: The Behavior of Wolves Hunting Wild Prey, from three leading wolf biologists of our day, L.David Mech, Douglas Smith, and Daniel MacNulty. And from the forests of southeast Asia, William deBuys’ The Last Unicorn: A Search for One of the Earth’s Rarest Creatures (the saola, the first large land mammal discovered in over fifty years).

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Shepherd Tales from Across the World: With sheep being an important part of Buffalo Peaks Ranch’s history, we couldn’t pass up these two wonderful books: The Art & Science of Shepherding: Tapping the Wisdom of French Herders, edited by Michel Meuret & Fred Provenza, along with John Bezzant’s Shepherds and Their Dogs, a fascinating look at this age-old partnership — full of evocative black and white photographs.

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Books at the Heart of a Movement: In this case the importance of biodiversity as told through the Collected Papers of Michael E. Soule: Early Years in Modern Conservation Biology. And secondly, the latest book on the vital importance of connecting kids and nature: Scott Sampson’s How to Raise a Wild Child: The Art and Science of Falling in Love with Nature.

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And Here’s a Book All About Hope! Natasha Bowen’s The Color of Food: Stories of Race, Resilience and Farming is a beautiful and wonderfully conceived collection of portraits and stories highlighting an often forgotten agricultural story. Natasha Bowens’ quest to explore her own roots in the soil leads her to unearth a larger story of culture, resilience, and the reclaiming of traditions. For more on the work of Natasha Bowens (pictured above), be sure to visit her website The Color of Food.

A special day at Buffalo Peaks Ranch
A special day, with melons, at Buffalo Peaks Ranch

A part of our obligation to our own being and to our descendants is to study life and our conditions, searching for the authentic underpinnings of hope.Wendell Berry

Swapping Seeds and Stories

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A Seed Library. The idea is simple. Pick up a packet of free seeds at your local library, plant them at home, harvest a few seeds from the plants you grow and return the surplus to your friendly neighborhood seed library. The circle is complete, but think of all the learning along the way, and how much more we are able to appreciate the natural processes on which life depends. And what a great way for neighbors to learn from each other, swapping stories and advice, along with precious seeds.

The Land Library is already planning on incorporating a free seed exchange at its future Urban Homestead Learning Center. We’ve been learning from several libraries across Colorado, and beyond. For even more lessons learned, we’re thrilled to have Cindy Conner’s new book Seed Libraries and other means of keeping seeds in the Hands of the People. Paul Hrycyk, Seed Library Coordinator at Seeds of Diversity, had this to say: “Seed Libraries is a must-read for anyone embarking on the task of setting up their own seed library, or those just interested in becoming more informed on the issue of genetic diversity in our food systems. It combines practical knowledge with the philosophy behind seed libraries and would be useful in your first or tenth year of operating a seed library and saving seeds. Highly recommended!”

Also pictured above: An ingenious new use for the classic card catalog, now serving as a repository for local seeds. This old catalog was lovingly painted by Linda Thistle, a volunteer at the Washington County Library in Abingdon, Virginia.

Along with seeds to share, the Land Library will have a couple of bookcases full of books on seeds and seed saving. Terrific books such as these!

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An Orchard Invisible: A Natural History of Seeds by Jonathan Silvertown, and from Kew Gardens, Seedswap: The Gardener’s Guide to Saving and Swapping Seeds by Josie Jeffery.

Currently at our Waterton Canyon Nature Library, here’s two wonderful kids books that show what a compact marvel a seed is:

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A Seed is Sleepy by Dianna Hutts Aston & Sylvia Long, and Seeds by Ken Robbins

Lastly, here’s a forthcoming books we are all waiting for, along with one of our all-time favorite books on seeds, food, and land:

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The Triumph of Seeds: How Grains, Nuts, Kernels, Pulses, and Pips Conquered the Plant Kingdom and Shaped Human History, due out in late March, from Thor Hanson, author of Feathers: The Evolution of a Natural Miracle. And one of our favorite books on the subject: Janisse Ray’s The Seed Underground: A Growing Revolution to Save Food — a perfect place to begin to explore the “built-in generosity of seeds.”

To swap seeds is to keep a variety strong and valuable — a genetic currency, the exchange of priceless genetic material. How interesting that the agrarian within us understands that to survive, to keep our crops viable, we have to be openhanded. Seeds have a built-in requirement for generosity.” — Janisse Ray

The Land Library is all about connecting people to nature and the land. There are so many ways you can help us establish the Headwaters to Plains Network, with learning centers at three locations along the South Platte River — from the Headwaters of South Park to inner-city Denver. If you would like lend your support in any way that you can, please let us know!