Small farms once occupied the heights that John Elder calls home, but now only a few cellar holes and tumbled stone walls remain among the dense stands of maple, beech, and hemlocks on these Vermont hills. "Reading the Mountains of Home"is a journey into these verdant reaches where in the last century humans tried their hand and where bear and moose now find shelter. As John Elder is our guide, so Robert Frost is Elder's companion, his great poem "Directive" seeing us through a landscape in which nature and literature, loss and recovery, are inextricably joined.
Over the course of a year, Elder takes us on his hikes through the forested uplands between South Mountain and North Mountain, reflecting on the forces of nature, from the descent of the glaciers to the rush of the New Haven River, that shaped a plateau for his village of Bristol; and on the human will that denuded and farmed and abandoned the mountains so many years ago. His forays wind through the flinty relics of nineteenth-century homesteads and Abenaki settlements, leading to meditations on both human failure and the possibility for deeper communion with the land and others.
An exploration of the body and soul of a place, an interpretive map of its natural and literary life, "Reading the Mountains of Home" strikes a moving balance between the pressures of civilization and the attraction of wilderness. It is a beautiful work of nature writing in which human nature finds its place, where the reader is invited to follow the last line of Frost's "Directive," to "Drink and be whole again beyond confusion."
A slight memoir celebrating the natural wonders of the Vermont mountains. Elder (Following the Brush, 1993), a professor of English and environmental studies at Middlebury College, has clearly read the approved canon of nature literature, and much of this book reads like a heavily annotated syllabus. When he describes a place at first hand, he more often than not relates what another writer - especially Robert Frost, the dean of writers in those parts - has had to say about it, too. His glosses on those writers, Frost included, are seldom helpful ("In Frost's landscape, things are always changing, but the change is never random"); and his bookish leanings often obscure what is meant to be his subject, the "hirsute" landscapes (the metaphor derives from Dante) of northern New England, which, Elder points out, is "far wilder today than it was a century and a half ago." Elder traces this renascent wildness to a combination of factors; whereas, he notes, Vermont was the fastest-growing American state up to the War of 1812, it fell victim to economic stagnation, farm failures, and industrial collapse, leaving it a hard-pressed and hard-bitten place - one that is now being yuppified, he writes, thanks to the telecommunications revolution, which "turns quiet little worlds like this into targets for settlement, and for exploitation." Elder's immediate observations on both that land and its crusty Yankee occupants are often perceptive and well made. Would that his book had been given over to such direct reportage, and not to lit-crit and green pablum, such as "Wilderness . . . offers a realm for human activity that does not seek to take possession and that leaves no traces; it provides a baseline for strenuous experience of our own creaturehood." Frost would have cringed. (Kirkus Reviews)
|A Wilderness of Scars||p. 9|
|Hiking by Flashlight||p. 28|
|Bristol Cliffs||p. 45|
|The Plane on South Mountain||p. 70|
|Someone's Road Home||p. 106|
|In the Village||p. 133|
|North Mountain Gyres||p. 149|
|The Ledges||p. 166|
|Coltsfoot, Mourning Cloak||p. 183|
|The Stolen Goblet||p. 202|
|A Confusion of Waters||p. 221|
|Selected Readings||p. 241|
|Table of Contents provided by Syndetics. All Rights Reserved.|
Number Of Pages: 272
Published: 1st October 1999
Dimensions (cm): 21.1 x 14.2 x 1.62
Weight (kg): 0.322