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Nature and Culture in the Northern Forest

Region, Heritage, and Environment in the Rural Northeast

Pavel Cenkl

Publication Year: 2010

Nearly 30 million acres of the Northern Forest stretch across New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine. Within this broad area live roughly a million residents whose lives are intimately associated with the forest ecosystem and whose individual stories are closely linked to the region’s cultural and environmental history. The fourteen engaging essays in Nature and Culture in the Northern Forest effectively explore the relationships among place, work, and community in this complex landscape. Together they serve as a stimulating introduction to the interdisciplinary study of this unique region.
      Each of the four sections views through a different lens the interconnections between place and people. The essayists in “Encounters” have their hiking boots on as they focus on personal encounters with flora and fauna of the region. The energizing accounts in “Teaching and Learning” question our assumptions about education and scholarship by proposing invigorating collaborations between teachers and students in ways determined by the land itself, not by the abstractions of pedagogy. With the freshness of Thoreau’s irreverence, the authors in “Rethinking Place” look at key figures in the forest’s literary and cultural development to help us think about the affiliations between place and citizenship. In “Nature as Commodity,” three essayists consider the ways that writers from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries thought about nature as a product and, thus, how their conclusions bear on the contemporary retailing of place.
     The writers in Nature and Culture in the Northern Forest reveal the rich affinities between a specific place and the literature, thought, and other cultural expressions it has nurtured. Their insightful and stimulating connections exemplify adventurous bioregional thinking that encompasses both natural and cultural realities while staying rooted in the particular landscape of some of the Northeast’s wildest forests and oldest settlements.

Published by: University of Iowa Press


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Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-x

Because the Northern Forest encompasses both northern New England and the Adirondacks of New York, it blurs our usual sense of political and regional boundaries. With its combination of the East’s wildest forests (in the Adirondacks and upper Maine) and some of the country’s oldest settlements and industrial sites ...

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pp. xi-xii

This collection represents several years of work compiling and editing essays as well as organizing the two conferences, Nature and Culture in the Northern Forest and the Rural Heritage Institute (RHI), which helped spark the ideas so clearly articulated in this volume. ...

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Reading Place in the Northern Forest

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pp. 1-14

As I write this in early spring, outside the door of our home in northern Vermont the ground in the yard has started to give a little underfoot, and the snow has begun to recede up the mountain slopes, leaving visible some of the secrets it has kept since late fall. Alongside the misplaced garden tools, dog toys, and flowerpots ...


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Meeting Twinflower (Linnaea borealis)

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pp. 17-27

Our alpine flora class hiked upward toward Mount Adams in the White Mountains on a July afternoon. Having poured through field guides and scientific papers on alpine plants, our eyes were tuned to the green around us. We noticed, in spite of the rocky trail and our 50-plus-pound packs, the transition from northern hardwoods ...

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Music of the Northern Forest: Boreal Birdsong in Literature and on the Trail

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pp. 28-48

June 2, 2000. The first day of our annual retreat from western New York to Downeast Maine. Under darkening skies and an early morning drizzle, my wife and I hiked across the blueberry barrens of Petit Manan Point, a peninsula shouldering out between Dyer Bay and Pigeon Hill Bay toward open ocean. A pair of ravens wheeled in slow, ...

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Life as Beech: Survival in the New England Forest

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pp. 49-58

The year is 1929, and our story begins in Downeast Maine. To many, Downeast is synonymous with Maine. For those that live in Maine, well that’s just plain flatlander gibberish. Downeast Maine stretches from Ellsworth to the Canadian border and sure as heck does not include Portland, or any portion of coastal Route 1 ...

Teaching and Learning

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Robert Frost in the Fields and Nils-Aslak Valkeap

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pp. 61-76

As a teacher of poetry, I am often confounded by the difficulties faced by emerging readers as they sort out the literal and symbolic meanings of a poem. New readers of poetry seem ready to leap to symbolic interpretations but often just plain miss the real, tangible things that give those symbols their life—literally. ...

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Interdisciplinary Teaching about the Adirondacks

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pp. 77-97

Few regions compare to the Adirondacks in terms of the wealth of material provided for study from many different perspectives. A logical place to start in a study of any region is its history, which for the Adirondacks may include tracing the influence of the early Iroquois through the arrival of the French and the Dutch, ...

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Youth, Refinement, and Environmental Knowledge in the Nineteenth-Century Rural North

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pp. 98-132

In his 1846 history of Vermont, minister and author Hosea Beckley lamented the depopulation of a Vermont hill town as growing industrial interests shifted the physical center of the town to the valley below. Beckley described the original hill settlement of Newfane in southern Vermont — one town away from his own hometown ...

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Place as a Catalyst for Engaged Learning at Franklin Pierce University

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pp. 133-150

The mission of the Monadnock Institute of Nature, Place and Culture at Franklin Pierce University is the study and cultivation of place, a complex and layered concept that includes both physical landscape features and human attachments and emotions. Locations, after all, are not fully places until we are able to reconcile ...

Rethinking Place

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Benton MacKaye’s 1904 White Mountains Hike: Exploring a Landscape of Logging, “Camp Ethics,” and Patriotism

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pp. 153-170

A century ago this summer,1 Benton MacKaye led a group of 8 boys on a 10-day hike across the White Mountains of New Hampshire, from Camp Moosilauke in Orford to the Appalachia railroad station in Randolph. For part of their trip the hikers followed paths that would one day be incorporated into the Appalachian Trail, ...

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William James at Chocorua: A Northern Forest Philosopher

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pp. 171-186

Is William James the Northern Forest’s forgotten philosopher? His first and still most important biographer suggested as much. Of the Adirondacks, Ralph Barton Perry noted, James wrote late in life that “I love it like a peasant, and if Calais was engraved on the heart of Mary Tudor, surely Keene Valley will be engraved on mine when I die.” ...

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A Traverse of the Presidential Range with the Scottish Highlands on My Mind

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pp. 187-212

With all due respect to Henry Miller, a hike in the White Mountains is sometimes all about destination as a place. When young, I once labored up and over Tuckerman’s Ravine, my mind’s eye steadfastly fixed on the summit of Mount Washington looming above. On other outings, I remember being more enamored with my travel route, ...

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Living with the Woods: Disturbance Histories in Thoreau and Burroughs

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pp. 213-224

Tom Wessels’s Reading the Forested Landscape is a primer for reading the disturbance history of landscapes in central New England. Kent Ryden calls it a “primer in Forestese.”1 It teaches us to observe the effects of the six common forms of forest disturbance in New England: fire, pasturing, logging, blights, beaver, and blowdowns. ...

Nature as Commodity

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In Awe of the Body: Physical Contact, Indulgence Shopping, and Nature Writing

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pp. 227-245

These lines from the “Ktaadn” section of Thoreau’s The Maine Woods precede his famous outburst, “the actual world! the common sense! Contact! Contact!” The physicality of existence as practical necessity gives way to unbounded awe, though that awe is paradoxically expressed by the exclamation “common sense” and literally ...

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Claiming Maine: Acquisition and Commodification in Thoreau’s The Maine Woods

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pp. 246-260

In the opening chapter of Walden—significantly titled “Economy”—Henry David Thoreau describes his literary endeavor in economic terms: “I have thought that Walden Pond would be a good place for business, not solely on account of the railroad and the ice trade; it offers advantages which it may not be good policy to divulge; ...

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So Much Beauty Locked Up in It: Of Ecocriticism and Axe-Murder

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pp. 261-276

I was flipping through a holiday issue of Down East—“The Magazine of Maine”— when I came across a special section containing “a collection of mail-order items from the Pine Tree State.” As usual, my Christmas shopping had been slow to happen, and so I perused the ads hoping to find something interesting and expedient. ...


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pp. 277-280


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pp. 281-288

E-ISBN-13: 9781587299360
E-ISBN-10: 1587299364
Print-ISBN-13: 9781587298561
Print-ISBN-10: 1587298562

Page Count: 302
Publication Year: 2010

Edition: paper

OCLC Number: 646068300
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Nature and Culture in the Northern Forest

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Community life -- Northeastern States.
  • Landscapes -- Social aspects -- Northeastern States.
  • Northeastern States -- Intellectual life.
  • Northeastern States -- In literature.
  • Forests and forestry -- Northeastern States.
  • Northeastern States -- Environmental conditions.
  • Northeastern States -- Rural conditions.
  • Human ecology -- Northeastern States.
  • Regionalism -- Northeastern States.
  • Human beings -- Effect of environment on -- Northeastern States.
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