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Landscape with Figures

Nature and Culture in New England

Kent C. Ryden, Wayne Franklin

Publication Year: 2001

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. In Landscape 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.

Published by: University of Iowa Press

Title Page, Copyright Page, Dedication Page

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pp. i-v


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pp. vii

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pp. ix-xv

A few hundred years is not long as human history is measured—let alone earth history—but, as Kent Ryden suggests in this thoughtful collection of essays on nature and culture in New England, it offers sufficient ground for raising a rich crop of insights. I first read his meditations while sitting in an old farmhouse in the midst of the complex landscapes he explores. He opened my eyes to...

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pp. xvii-xx

A book is a tree with an education, I suppose; taken from the forest, chewed up, and flattened into paper, the tree, studentlike, gets imprinted with all kinds of information, and those imprinted pieces of paper become bound into a volume that eventually stands on a shelf with a lot of other educated trees. Books about nature are thus almost kaleidoscopically complicated: reading one,...

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1. Big Trees and Back Yards: Time, Landscape, and the Borders of Nature

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pp. 1-42

I wouldn’t be writing this book if I hadn’t spent the first nine years of my childhood in New Milford, Connecticut. Our house sat on about an acre of ground, a plot that was shaped roughly like a right triangle: the hypotenuse was the road, the short leg was a hedge separating our yard from the neighbors’, and the remaining side was a wall of trees. Although I haven’t been back there...

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2. Landscape with Figures: Land & Tradition in American Nature Writing

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pp. 43-66

I occasionally wonder about what shape American environmental writing and ecocriticism would have taken if Henry Thoreau had decided that, on the whole, he got much more enjoyment from making pencils than from walking around outside, or if he had never developed an interest in writing about his experiences and reflections. To take one notable recent example, Lawrence Buell’s...

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3. Sea Green: Ethics & Environment in New England Coastal Fiction

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pp. 67-95

In Wallace Stevens’s poem “The Idea of Order at Key West,” the speaker and his companion, listening to a woman singing by the ocean, attempt to distinguish her voice from the sounds made by the sea itself. “It may be,” he says, “that in all her phrases stirred / The grinding water and the gasping wind; / But it was she and not the sea we heard.” He continues:

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4. "A Labyrinth of Errors": Thoreau, Cartography, & The Maine Woods

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pp. 96-134

In Wendell Berry’s novel Remembering, a character looks out of his airplane window as he leaves San Francisco, and Berry describes the view: “Afloat in fickle air, laboring upward, the plane makes a wide turn out over the ocean, and heads inland. . . . As they rise from it, the details of the ground diminish, draw together, and disappear. The land becomes a map of itself.”¹ By juxtaposing and contrasting...

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5. A Walk in the Woods: A Walk in the Woods Art & Artifact in a New England Forest

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pp. 135-157

Thoreau isn’t the only one who’s ever enjoyed walking in the Maine woods, of course. I do too, and try to do it as often as I can. And I’m often driven to those woods by one of the same impulses that sent Thoreau there so many years ago: the desire to get away from other people, at least for a short time. Thoreau learned a lot from Joe Polis, to be sure, and was...

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6. Redesigning the River

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pp. 158-198

One summer Maine day in the town of Gorham I drove down Hurricane Road, a narrow ribbon of two-lane blacktop winding its way downhill among the trees that closely crowded it on either side. Rounding one final bend, I came to Babb’s Bridge, a covered bridge that spans the Presumpscot River and connects Gorham to the town of Windham on the other side. The original bridge on...

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7. Natural Landscapes, Cultural Regions; or, What Is Natural about New England?

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pp. 199-281

If nothing else, the experiences and thoughts and texts that have gone into the making of this book have proven to me just how physically and conceptually complicated New England is, just how varied the landscape becomes when you look at it from the vantage point of several particular places and through the perspectives provided by several different minds. To Henry David Thoreau, and to John Casey’s...


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pp. 283-306


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pp. 307-317

E-ISBN-13: 9781587294068
E-ISBN-10: 1587294060
Print-ISBN-13: 9780877457886
Print-ISBN-10: 0877457883

Page Count: 342
Publication Year: 2001

Edition: 1