In July 1909 twenty-one-year-old Elizabeth Corey left her Iowa farm to stake her claim to a South Dakota homestead. Over the next ten years, as she continued her schoolteaching career and carved out a home for herself in this inhospitable territory, she sent a steady stream of letters to her family back in Iowa. From the edge of modern America, Bess wrote long, gossipy accounts—"our own continuing adventure story," according to her brother Paul—of frontier life on the high plains west of the Missouri River. Irrepressible, independent-minded, and evidently fearless, the self-styled Bachelor Bess gives us a firsthand, almost daily account of her homesteading adventures. We can all stake a claim in her energetic letters.
At the core of this nuanced book is the question that ecocritics have been debating for decades: what is the relationship between aesthetics and activism, between art and community? By using a pastoral lens to examine ten fictional narratives that chronicle the dialogue between human culture and nonhuman nature on the Great Plains, Matthew Cella explores literary treatments of a succession of abrupt cultural transitions from the Euroamerican conquest of the “Indian wilderness” in the nineteenth century to the Buffalo Commons phenomenon in the twentieth. By charting the shifting meaning of land use and biocultural change in the region, he posits this bad land—the arid West—as a crucible for the development of the human imagination.
Each chapter deals closely with two novels that chronicle the same crisis within the Plains community. Cella highlights, for example, how Willa Cather reconciles her persistent romanticism with a growing disillusionment about the future of rural Nebraska, how Tillie Olsen and Frederick Manfred approach the tragedy of the Dust Bowl with strikingly similar visions, and how Annie Proulx and Thomas King use the return of the buffalo as the centerpiece of a revised mythology of the Plains as a palimpsest defined by layers of change and response. By illuminating these fictional quests for wholeness on the Great Plains, Cella leads us to understand the intricate interdependency of people and the places they inhabit.
Cella uses the term “pastoralism” in its broadest sense to mean a mode of thinking that probes the relationship between nature and culture: a discourse concerned with human engagement—material and nonmaterial—with the nonhuman community. In all ten novels discussed in this book, pastoral experience—the encounter with the Beautiful—leads to a renewed understanding of the integral connection between human and nonhuman communities. Propelling this tradition of bad land pastoralism are an underlying faith in the beauty of wholeness that comes from inhabiting a continuously changing biocultural landscape and a recognition of the inevitability of change. The power of story and language to shape the direction of that change gives literary pastoralism the potential to support an alternative series of ideals based not on escape but on stewardship: community, continuity, and commitment.
In her luminous inquiry into the intricate connections among work, place, and people, Frieda Knobloch explores the lives of two Rocky Mountain botanists, Aven Nelson (1859-1952) and Ruth Ashton Nelson (1896-1987). Aven was a professor of botany at the University of Wyoming for many years; Ruth compiled field guides to Rocky Mountain plants and wrote articles on botany for magazines. The two met and married when Aven was in his seventies and Ruth was in her mid thirties, and they developed a symbiotic partnership that joined work and play, learning and companionship. Into this relatively straightforward reconstruction of two lives Knobloch blends the history of her own life as a scholar and an amateur naturalist, her own journal entries, and her letters written to Ruth to create a transformative environmental auto/biography.
“There was so much space.” These words epitomize ecologist Joe Truett's boyhood memories of the Angelina River valley in East Texas. Years and miles later, back home for the funeral of his grandfather, Truett began a long meditation on the world Corbett Graham had known and he himself had glimpsed, a now-vanished world where wild hogs and countless other animals rustled through the leaves, cows ate pinewoods grass instead of corn, oaks and hickories and longleaf pines were untouched by the corporate ax, and the river flowed freely. Truett's meditation resulted in this clear-sighted portrait of a place over time, its layers revealed by his love and care and curiosity.Truett celebrates his family's heritage and the unspoiled natural world of the Piney Woods without nostalgia. He recreates an older, simpler, more worthy age, but he knows that we have lost touch with it because we wanted to: he laments the loss but understands it. What makes his prose so moving and so redeeming is this precise combination of honesty and sorrow, overlaid by a quiet passion for both the natural and the human worlds.
"Send those on land that will show themselves diligent writers." So urged the "sailing instructions" prepared for explorer Henry Hudson. With distinctive command of the primary texts created by such "diligent writers" as Columbus, William Bradford, and Thomas Jefferson, Wayne Franklin describes how the New World was created from their new words. The long verbal discovery of America, he asserts, entailed both advance and retreat, sudden insights and blind insistence on old ways of seeing. The discoverers, explorers, and settlers depicted America in words—or via maps, tables, and landscape views—as a complex spatial and political entity, a place where ancient formula and current fact were inevitably at odds.
The Follinglo Dog Book both is and is not about dogs. The dogs are certainly here: from Milla to Chip the Third, we encounter a procession of heroic if often unfortunate creatures who, along with their immigrant masters, led a hard life on the nineteenth-century American frontier. However, if you pick up this book thinking it will offer a heartwarming read about canine experiences, you will find yourself reinformed by the way it unfolds.
Instead, these are the stories of a Norwegian pioneer family that came in 1860 to settle the Iowa prairie on a homestead called Follinglo Farm in Story County, Iowa. In the Tjernagels' experience one may read a chronicle of the state, the region, and the nation. Arriving in Iowa in what was still the age of wooden equipment and animal power, the Tjernagels witnessed each successive revolution on the land. They built homes and barns, cultivated the land, and encountered every manner of natural disaster from prairie fires to blizzards. Through all the struggles and setbacks, Peder Gustav Tjernagel's stories sparkle with boyhood pranks and adventures, in which the family dogs frequently play a role.
Readers will discover a wonderful cast of Norwegian relatives and neighbors, including a Herculean uncle, Store Per (Big Pete), who could lift a cow by its horns; a mysterious aunt, Stora Fastero (Big Sister), whose arrival signaled that a baby was soon to be born; and Elling Eilson, the walking Lutheran apostle. And, of course, there are the dogs who shepherd, protect, and even baby-sit the residents of Follinglo Farm.
Focusing on the Plains territory of east central South Dakota as well as the Great Lakes lumber-producing region of Wisconsin's Chippewa Valley, John Vogel carefully and thoroughly examines the pattern and process by which lumber reached South Dakota. The Great Dakota Boom of 1878 to 1887 and the Laird, Norton Lumber Company of Winona, Minnesota, provide the basis for his engrossing book.
The westward expansion of the railroad and the continuing settlement of the Great Plains in the late nineteenth century allowed the lumber companies of Minnesota and Wisconsin to send their boards and beams and fenceposts and millwork to a market characterized by great demand and small supply. Laird, Norton followed settlers across southern Dakota as they arrived on the trains. The eastern portions of Dakota were settled first, and thus early lumberyards were found there; as settlement moved west, so did the lumberyards. Beyond its all-important function of distribution, the railroad forced Laird, Norton to alter the very structure of its operation. Experimenting with nearly complete vertical integration, the company pioneered organizational models that would serve significant purposes as frontier America—a republic of wood—solidified itself economically and culturally.
Working with the premise that there are much meaning and value in the "repelling beauty" of mining landscapes, Richard Francaviglia identifies the visual clues that indicate an area has been mined and tells us how to read them, showing the interconnections among all of America's major mining districts. With a style as bold as the landscape he reads and with photographs to match, he interprets the major forces that have shaped the architecture, design, and topography of mining areas. Covering many different types of mining and mining locations, he concludes that mining landscapes have come to symbolize the turmoil between what our society elects to view as two opposing forces: culture and nature.
Even though race influenced how Americans envisioned, represented, and shaped the American West, discussions of its history devalue the experiences of racial and ethnic minorities. In this lyrical history of marginalized peoples in Idaho, Robert T. Hayashi views the West from a different perspective by detailing the ways in which they shaped the western landscape and its meaning.
As an easterner, researcher, angler, and third-generation Japanese American traveling across the contemporary Idaho landscape—where his grandfather died during internment during World War II—Hayashi reconstructs a landscape that lured emigrants of all races at the same time its ruling forces were developing cultured processes that excluded nonwhites. Throughout each convincing and compelling chapter, he searches for the stories of dispossessed minorities as patiently as he searches for trout.
Using a wide range of materials that include memoirs, oral interviews, poetry, legal cases, letters, government documents, and even road signs, Hayashi illustrates how Thomas Jefferson’s vision of an agrarian, all-white, and democratic West affected the Gem State’s Nez Perce, Chinese, Shoshone, Mormon, and particularly Japanese residents. Starting at the site of the Corps of Discovery’s journey into Idaho, he details the ideological, aesthetic, and material manifestations of these intertwined notions of race and place. As he ?y-?shes Idaho’s fabled rivers and visits its historical sites and museums, Hayashi reads the contemporary landscape in light of this evolution.
Kent Ryden does not deny that the natural landscape of New England is shaped by many centuries of human manipulation, but he also takes the view that nature is everywhere, close to home as well as in more remote wilderness, in the city and in the countryside. InLandscape with Figures he dissolves the border between culture and nature to merge ideas about nature, experiences in nature, and material alterations of nature.
Ryden takes his readers from the printed page directly to the field and back again-. He often bypasses books and goes to the trees from which they are made and the landscapes they evoke, then returns with a renewed appreciation for just what an interdisciplinary, historically informed approach can bring to our understanding of the natural world. By exploring McPhee's The Pine Barrens and Ehrlich's The Solace of Open Spaces, the coastal fiction of New England, surveying and Thoreau's The Maine Woods,Maine's abandoned Cumberland and Oxford Canal, and the natural bases for New England's historical identity, Ryden demonstrates again and again that nature and history are kaleidoscopically linked.
As an archetype for an entire class of places, Main Street has become one of America's most popular and idealized images. In Main Street Revisited, the first book to place the design of small downtowns in spatial and chronological context, Richard Francaviglia finds the sources of romanticized images of this archetype, including Walt Disney's Main Street USA, in towns as diverse as Marceline, Missouri, and Fort Collins, Colorado.
Francaviglia interprets Main Street both as a real place and as an expression of collective assumptions, designs, and myths; his Main Streets are treasure troves of historic patterns. Using many historical and contemporary photographs and maps for his extensive fieldwork and research, he reveals a rich regional pattern of small-town development that serves as the basis for American community design. He underscores the significance of time in the development of Main Street's distinctive personality, focuses on the importance of space in the creation of place, and concentrates on popular images that have enshrined Main Street in the collective American consciousness.
What connections can be drawn between oral history and the shopping mall? Gospel music and the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant? William Carlos Williams's Patterson and the Manhattan Project's secret cities? The answers lie in this insightful collection of essays that read and illuminate the American landscape. Through literature and folklore, music and oral history, autobiography, architecture, and photography, eleven leading writers and thinkers explore the dialectic between space and place in modern American life. The result is an eloquent and provocative reminder of the environmental context of events—the deceptively simple fact that events “take place.”
Any landscape has an unseen component: a subjective component of experience, memory, and narrative which people familiar with the place understand to be an integral part of its geography but which outsiders may not suspect the existence of—unless they listen and read carefully. This invisible landscape is make visible though stories, and these stories are the focus of this engrossing book.
Traveling across the invisible landscape in which we imaginatively dwell, Kent Ryden—himself a most careful listener and reader—asks the following questions. What categories of meaning do we read into our surroundings? What forms of expression serve as the most reliable maps to understanding those meanings? Our sense of any place, he argues, consists of a deeply ingrained experiential knowledge of its physical makeup; an awareness of its communal and personal history; a sense of our identity as being inextricably bound up with its events and ways of life; and an emotional reaction, positive or negative, to its meanings and memories.
Ryden demonstrates that both folk and literary narratives about place bear a striking thematic and stylistic resemblance. Accordingly, Mapping the Invisible Landscape examines both kinds of narratives. For his oral materials, Ryden provides an in-depth analysis of narratives collected in the Coeur d'Alene mining district in the Idaho panhandle; for his consideration of written works, he explores the “essay of place,” the personal essay which takes as its subject a particular place and a writer's relationship to that place.
Drawing on methods and materials from geography, folklore, and literature, Mapping the Invisible Landscape offers a broadly interdisciplinary analysis of the way we situate ourselves imaginatively in the landscape, the way we inscribe its surface with stories. Written in an extremely engaging style, this book will lead its readers to an awareness of the vital role that a sense of place plays in the formation of local cultures, to an understanding of the many-layered ways in which place interacts with individual lives, and to renewed appreciation of the places in their own lives and landscapes.
In Mountains of Memory, seasoned wilderness dweller Don Scheese charts a long season of watching for and fighting fires in Idaho's River of No Return Wilderness&151the largest federal wilderness area in the mainland United States. An inspiring tale of self-discovery,Mountains of Memory paints a complex portrait of the natural, institutional, and historical forces that have shaped the great forested landscapes of the American West.
A student of nature writing as well as a fire lookout with over a decade of experience, Scheese recounts his life at the top of the world, along with daring adventures such as backpacking and mountaineering in the Bighorn Crags and kayaking down the Middle Fork of the Salmon River. All the while, he touches upon the mysterious and powerful realities of the wilderness around him and stunning dawns visible within the glass cage perched on a 9,000-foot mountain, stirring flashes of lightning visible all around the dark landscape as the radio crackles with reports of strikes observed and fires spotted, long-awaited trips down the mountain to civilization for cold beer and hot pizza.
In the tradition of Edward Abbey and Gary Snyder, Don Scheese offers readers a meditation on the meaning and value of wilderness at the beginning of the twenty-first century.
In A Place for Dialogue, Sharon McKenzie Stevens views the contradictions and collaborations involved in the management of public land in southern Arizona—and by extension the entire arid West—through the lens of political rhetoric. Revealing the socioecological relationships among cattlemen and environmentalists as well as developers and recreationists, she analyzes the ways that language shapes landscape by shaping decisions about land use.
Stevens focuses on the collaborative Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan initiated by Pima County, Arizona, the ubiquitous use of scientific argument to defend contradictory practices, and the construction and negotiation of rancher/environmentalist identities to illuminate both literally and metaphorically the dynamics of land use politics. Drawing specifically upon extensive interviews with a diverse array of agents on all sides of the debate—ranchers, environmentalists, scientists, land managers, government officials—on historical narratives, and on her own conflicting experiences as someone who grew up with those who work the western lands, she demonstrates that it is possible to use differences to solve, rather than to aggravate, the entrenched problems that bridge land and language.
By integrating her richly textured case study of a fragile region with rhetorical approaches to narrative, science-based argument, and collective identities, Stevens makes a significant contribution to the fields of rhetoric, land management, and cultural studies.
Resource protection and public recreation policies have always been subject to the shifting winds of management philosophy governing both national and state parks. Somewhere in the balance, however, parks and preserves have endured as unique places of mind as well as matter. Places of Quiet Beauty allows us to see parks and preserves, forests and wildlife refuges—all those special places that the term “park” conjures up—as measures of our own commitment to caring for the environment. In this broad-ranging book, historian Rebecca Conard examines the complexity of American environmentalism in the twentieth century as manifest in Iowa's state parks and preserves.
In Reflecting a Prairie Town Drake Hokanson takes a prolonged look at a common place in an uncommon fashion. He presents Peterson, Iowa, through a singular combination of words and images, a remarkable synthesis of history, geography, direct observation, climatology, botany, oral history, archaeology, agricultural science, literature, geology, photography, and even a bit of astronomy. This vernacular landscape study is lavishly illustrated with photographs taken by the author, including stunning panoramic views.
The fundamental truth of experience on this continent has always lain in the challenges and opportunities of space. Place mattered because we were so few before the immensity of the land. But place at the same time rooted us in that immensity. Even now our appreciation for place is not quite dead; locked in our urban environments we continue to crave a “view,” be it of mountains, forests, or prairies. These “views” crop up unexpectedly as photographic murals in office buildings or posters in dentists' offices. It is to this stifled sense of the importance of place that Hokanson speaks; he invites us to remember and to be revitalized.
The magic of Reflecting a Prairie Town is the revelation that Peterson, Iowa, is a small town that is also uncannily large. In capturing the essence of this one place Hokanson helps us to understand our own worlds better—he asks the simple questions many of us would like to ask were we given the opportunity. To enter this book is to come back to a place we have never really seen before.
Sometime late in 1868, New York farmer and carpenter James C. Holmes bought a new pocket diary for 1869. Now, over a hundred years later, this rare document of craft activity becomes the center for an intensive study of rural carpentry in Holmes' place and time that unlocks an entire realm of significances.
Holmes' day-by-day record places his actual craft, not just its visible artifacts, in the context of nineteenth-century culture, society, and economics. Wayne Franklin's impeccable, wide-ranging research reconstructs Holmes' networks at a time when the coming industrialization of the building trades had yet to have much effect outside American cities. His meticulous identification of more than one hundred individuals referred to in the diary and his group biography of over sixty carpenters who practiced in the area until 1900 create portraits of real lives, demonstrating the complexities of the social landscape after the Civil War.
A Rural Carpenter's World makes carpentry a prism through which James Holmes and his work and his world shine. This graceful, living record has immediate and lasting value for social historians, students of vernacular architecture and the built environment, and all those interested in westward migration and rural America.
As a child growing up in Pipestone, Minnesota, in the 1930s, William Morgan marveled over his great-grandmother's salt-filled chimney lantern. Full of sea salt and mementos and drawings that commemorated her British home and her journey to America in 1855, this Victorian artifact became the inspiration both for Morgan's pilgrimage to find the original salt lantern and, after many journeys both external and internal, for this multifaceted family history.
Morgan began his research by visiting England and Scotland, then traveled to Vermont, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, and North Dakota searching for the buildings and landscapes related to his mother's ancestors. Tracing his father's family took him to Ireland, where he discovered the thatched-roof house in which his grandmother was born. By studying his family's houses, farm buildings, landforms, letters, and heirlooms, Bill Morgan tells the stories of his ancestors' lives. By adding fresh memories written by his sister and brothers as well as journals and other family documents, he builds upon these stories to create a full life of an American family.