Late in life, the American novelist and conservationist Wallace Stegner left California, where he had lived for half a century, to move to Vermont. The reason, he said, was simple: there is more wilderness to be found in the pine forests of western New England than in the Far West. John Elder supports Stegner's claim, writing in Reading the Mountains of Home
that the abandoned farmsteads of so many of Robert Frost's Vermont poems have now reverted to wild lands, dense with fallen logs and snags, full of bird and animal life.
A longtime resident of the state, Elder uses Frost's great but little-known poem "Directive" as a touchstone by which to guide his discussion of how modern humans can truly inhabit a landscape--in this case, a landscape that had been developed for generations and then all but forgotten. In such places, Elder writes, the issue is not one of wilderness versus civilization, that old trope, but the wildness that endures at the edges of settled places, wildness that is accessible to people all around the world. His celebration of returning greenness, of the forest's seasons, and of his own life in the woods makes for engaging reading indeed. --Gregory McNamee
From Kirkus Reviews
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 writerespecially Robert Frost, the dean of writers in those partshas 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 placeone 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. (illustrations and maps, not seen) -- Copyright ©1998, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.
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