Wildest Places on Earth: Italian Gardens and the Invention of Wilderness

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"In The Wildest Place on Earth John Hanson Mitchell sets out on a journey to uncover the essence of wilderness. Instead of traveling to the outermost boundaries of the earth in his quest, he ends up exploring the green realms of his childhood and the haunted gardens of Italy, the original source of inspiration for the painters and conservationists who shaped the American concept of wilderness." "Searching for wildness, Mitchell is ultimately pulled inward toward home, back to what Thoreau called "contact" - an abiding, enduring, and daily
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In this book, John Hanson Mitchell sets out on an extraordinary journey to uncover the essence of wilderness. He ends up exploring the green realms of his childhood and the ... haunted gardens of Italy, the original source of inspiration for painters and conservationists who shaped the American concept of wilderness. In looking at America's National Parks, the boisterously crowded and smoggy "wilds" sent the author on a pilgrimage into the influence of Italy's seemingly tamed and ordered landscapes. He encounters there the great god Pan, who was born in the mountain fastness of Arcadia and purportedly died with the birth of Christianity but who, as Mitchell argues, can still be found even today if you know how to look. He found an abiding, enduring, and daily connection with the world of nature. He came to realize that the wildest place may be right in his own backyard. An extremely original, beautifully written book. The boards are textured burgundy paper and green spine, with a colophon and author's initials in gold. The lettering on the spine is in gold. Read more Show Less

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Washington, DC, U.S.A. 2001 Hard Cover First Edition New in New jacket 8vo-over 7?"-9?" tall. Washington, DC: Counterpoint, 2001. First edition. 8vo. Hard cover binding. ... Searching for wildness in the backyard garden. New in new dustjacket, protected with a mylar cover. Read more Show Less

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Overview

"In The Wildest Place on Earth John Hanson Mitchell sets out on a journey to uncover the essence of wilderness. Instead of traveling to the outermost boundaries of the earth in his quest, he ends up exploring the green realms of his childhood and the haunted gardens of Italy, the original source of inspiration for the painters and conservationists who shaped the American concept of wilderness." "Searching for wildness, Mitchell is ultimately pulled inward toward home, back to what Thoreau called "contact" - an abiding, enduring, and daily connection with the world of nature. He comes to realize that the wildest place may be right in his own backyard."--BOOK JACKET.
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Editorial Reviews

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The Barnes & Noble Review
The editor of Sanctuary, the journal of the Massachusetts Audubon Society, offers an unusual twist on the genre of nature writing by using Italian garden design as a framework for exploring the meaning of wildness. This is not as much of a stretch as you might imagine. Over the centuries, Italian gardens have always incorporated wild spaces as part of the overall design. It is the balance of order and disorder, of control and freedom that gives these gardens their special qualities.

I took a particular interest in this book, having procured my own small urban garden. Like the author, I, too, had sought nature in the properly designated places, such as the Catskills, so I was interested in knowing if he thought the possibility for wildness could exist in some landscape of human creation. In John Hanson Mitchell's case, his home in the woods ensured that wild nature was always a presence. I enjoyed his tales of creating an Italian garden in the middle of the forest, complete with a formal hedge maze, but what struck me was his sensitivity to the unexpected moments of wildness to be found in domesticated spaces. Pan, the archaic embodiment of wildness, figures prominently in the book. After finishing it -- which took longer than usual because I couldn't bring myself to rush through it -- I came away with the hope that Pan might visit me one day in my little sanctuary.

The Wildest Place on Earth is a lovely meditation on the relationship between the creations of humankind and those of nature. (Laura Wood, Science & Nature Editor)

Boston Globe
A natural story teller, as keen an observer of the people he talks about as he is about what grows and lives on the land itself.
Richard Nelson
A unique, delightful, and absolutely essential voice.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Mitchell (Ceremonial Time) opens this lush, labyrinthine book with his long-ago encounter, in the American desert, with "a wildman," "who claimed you could live forever in the wilderness with two or three milk goats and a working knowledge of edible plants." The younger Mitchell embraced this philosophy, but, ultimately, it was in "the most thoroughly transformed landscape of all, the hedged terraces, all es, pathways, pools, fountains, and hidden rooms of what was left of the old Renaissance gardens of Italy" that he "rediscovered that old sense of goatly wildness." From the great mazes of ancient Egypt to the 12th-century hedge maze where Henry II's wife murdered his mistress, to the construction of his own backyard maze and tea house, Mitchell explores the wilderness of the human imagination and "the undiscovered country of the nearby." Three of what Thoreau would have called "clews" to Mitchell's project keep cropping up: first, Thoreau's idea of "Contact," or oneness with nature; second, the contrast between conceptions of true wilderness "as a separate place" with "a certain aura of power or ability to bestow information or insight" and the construction of the garden; and finally, the beloved demigod Pan, who physically embodies both the untamed forests and deserts (his goat half) and sculpted gardens (his human half). Part travelogue, part garden history in the tradition of Edith Wharton's Italian Villas and Their Gardens, this poetic little book traces the transportation of humankind to the wilderness and the transformation of the wild into rich human habitat. (Apr. 1) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Booknews
Mitchell, editor of the National Audubon Society magazine and author of natural and human history books, deals with the perennial human quest for inspiration in wild places, and the irony of finding it not in the remote wilderness of the mountains but in the well-ordered, cultivated gardens of Europe<-->and his own back garden in Massachusetts. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781582430461
  • Publisher: Counterpoint Press
  • Publication date: 3/1/2001
  • Pages: 208
  • Product dimensions: 6.50 (w) x 8.98 (h) x 0.78 (d)

Table of Contents

Prologue
1 Contact 3
2 The Great Forest 12
3 The Garden in the Woods 23
4 In a Green Shade 45
5 The Genteel Romantics 70
6 Italian Reveries 90
7 Into the Wild 104
8 The Italian Debt 123
9 The Cathedral in the Pines 138
10 The Fate of Earth 151
11 Backyard Serengeti 173
Epilogue: The Persistence of Pan 187
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