Friday, July 31, 2009

Book Trails

SELECTED to represent New York on the United State map distributed to kids at the massive National Book Festival in Washington DC in September is River of Dreams, written and illustrated by GreeneLand's illustrious Hudson Talbott. The festival, sponsored by the Library of Congress, drawing thousands upon thousands of visitors to the National Mall, according to its publicist, "celebrates the joys of reading and lifelong literacy." President and Ms Obama will grace the event. An autographed copy of River of Dreams could find its way, via Malia and Sasha, to the White House--augmented perhaps by another tantalizing Talbott tome, United Tweets of America. (Meanwhile, concert versions of the musical adaptation of River will be performed soon by the youthful cast at five Hudson Valley events). ISSUED recently by ace GreeneLand publisher Deborah Allen (Black Dome Press) is a worthy successor to the 2006 guidebook Trails With Tales, by the team of Russell Dunn and Barbara Delaney. Adirondack Trails With Tales does for 26 northerly bucolic attractions what its predecessor did for closer climes (the Catskill, the Berkshires, the Hudson Valley...). Its "History Hikes" provide, as the authors say, a literary "marriage of physical outdoor adventure and historical appreciation." ------Readers can learn, for example, not only how to get to John Brown's farm, but also how he came to settle there and what happened to him and his family in the wake of his and his sons' pre-Civil War on the Federal armory at Harpers Ferry. Then there's Cooper's Cave, with careful directions for hikers along with discussion of its resemblance to what James Fenimore Cooper depicted in The Last of the Mohicans. -----Henry Hudson's discovery of what came to be known as the Hudson River coincided in 1609 with Samuel deChamplain's discovery of his eponymous lake. The story of Coon Lake involves William Gilliland, and Benedict Arnold, and a Declaration of Principles that evoked charges of treason against the British Crown. Paul Smith is a place as well as a name; and therein hangs a tale. Following the fierce Battle of Lake George during the French and Indian War (August 1755), 200 bodies of Frenchmen and Indians were dumped in a place that was known thereafter as Bloody Pond. Col. Ephraim Williams, a hero on the British/colonial side, was the founding benefactor of Williams College. Fort Ticonderoga, strategically placed at the headwaters of Lake Champlain, was captured by Britons and colonials from the French, by American rebels from the Brits, by the Brits from the Yanks, then by the Yanks--sometimes without a shot being fired, eventually without much in the way of fortifications. The Keene Valley in the 1870's was a major target for landscape painters who, imbued with Hudson River School values, sought grander vistas than were afforded by the Catskills. The hamlet of Adirondac, once the home of a thriving iron ore industry, was abandoned, then revived a bit as the Preston Pond Club and then the Tahawus sportsmen's club. Vice-President Theodore Roosevelt was staying there when news came in September 1901 than President William McKinley was dying; he went through quite an ordeal on horseback, coach and and railroad to get back to Washington. ------Those historic notes and many more adjoin solid practical guidance for hikers. Moreover, the book's table of contents gives readers a choice between selecting hikes by "theme" (battle sites, estates, lighthouses, islands, rock formations, historical eras from Colonial through Gilded Age) and by effort level (Easy through Difficult). SIMILAR in character to the Dunn & Delaney "history hikes," and closer to home, is The Hudson River School Art Trail Guide, just published by the Thomas Cole National Historic Site. This 50-page booklet combines straightforward information about reaching eight selected sites (seven in GreeneLand plus Olana, just across the Hudson), with enlightening words and pictures telling why those sites are memorable. The pictures are reproductions of paintings made in the 1800's by Hudson River School artists (Cole, Church, Durand, Cropsey, Gifford, Moore, Bartlett) along with photographs ( Francis X. Driscoll especially) of those scenes today. The words are carefully researched, lucid accounts (thanks to Gregory Rosenthal and Elizabeth Jacks) of circumstances that shaped the site selections, the pictures, and the careers of the painters. ALSO SIMILAR is a historic-scenic comment that occurs in both of these guidebooks. In Adirondack Trails With Tales, we are reminded that "painters and writers were extolling the picturesque scenery [of the High Peaks and of the Hudson Valley] at the same time that entrepreneurs were digging, chopping, and exploiting that very same scenery." In the Art Trail Guide we are reminded that "most Hudson River School artists chose to 'erase' from their paintings the true environmental degradation they found in the Catskills" in consequence of "the effects of industry on the landscape." To devotees of natural landscapes, most of the mountain, woodland, waterfall, rural sites portrayed in these guidebooks look better now than they did in years past.

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