READING THE MOUNTAINS OF HOME by John Elder

READING THE MOUNTAINS OF HOME

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KIRKUS REVIEW

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. (illustrations and maps, not seen)

Pub Date: April 15th, 1998
ISBN: 0-674-74888-3
Page count: 272pp
Publisher: Harvard Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 1998




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