Between Urban and Wild

Books From the Land

The past week was a hard one—one friend lost her adult son and another friend died suddenly. When life hurts, I am comforted by nature and the community of the land, hence this look at two thoughtful books grown with love—comfort food that nourishes mind, heart and spirit.

Between Urban and Wild: Reflections from Colorado

Between Urban and Wild Between Urban and Wild, by Andrea Jones

“I don’t think there’s a set formula for falling in love, but surprise, wonder, the invitation to thoughtfulness, and meeting the other on its own terms all have a part in the process,” writes Andrea Jones in “Love Letter to a Sewage Lagoon,” one essay in Between Urban and Wild.

I inherited much of my devotion to the mountains from my father, but Lake Powell [the ‘sewage lagoon’] provided me with the opportunity to discover the character of one small part of the world for myself. On the shores of that paradoxical desert lake, I learned what it meant to fall in love with a place. Love, of course, is seldom simple, and it wasn’t long before complications set in.

The complications to that childhood love for the wilderness of blue water set in a maze of pink and red sandstone begin with the fact that the lake is actually a reservoir, “a gigantic human artifact imposed on the red rock land.” And that it drowned Glen Canyon, perhaps the most glorious of the slickrock desert’s sinuous river canyons, and that the damming of the Colorado River to create the reservoir gravely harmed one of the West’s greatest watersheds.

Jones is the rare writer about nature and the land who loves deeply but is not blinded by her affection. Through Jones’ eyes, the West comes alive in luminous detail, and if our relationship with it is complex, contradictory, and sometimes heartbreaking, that gives her plenty to reflect on. Those reflections make Between Urban and Wild haunting and compelling, a book that lasts.

(The full review is posted on Story Circle Book Reviews.)

The Artist, the Cook, and the Gardener: Recipes Inspired By Painting from the Garden

The Artist, the Cook and the Gardener, by Maryjo Koch; design by Jenny Barry The Artist, the Cook and the Gardener, by Maryjo Koch; design by Jenny Barry

Just like a meal stimulates our senses and nourishes our bodies, the garden nourishes our spirits. Our mind’s focus on petty problems is pushed aside and is no match for the pondering of miracles found in a garden. … Walk into a garden and all five senses are aroused: from the fragrance and color of a flower, to the sounds of birds and wind, to the taste of freshly picked produce, to the feeling of moisture in the air or the soft leaves of lamb’s ears and the prickly thorns of a rose.

That sensual beginning gives readers a taste of The Artist, the Cook, and the Gardener, a lush book of recipes and art from naturalist painter Maryjo Koch, inspired by her verdant garden in the mountains of California’s Central Coast.

Open-faced Watercress Sandwiches with nasturtium flowers Open-faced Watercress Sandwiches with nasturtium flowers from the book

The book is arranged into chapters by types of dish—Soups; Salads; Sandwiches, Pizzas & Savory Tarts; and Sweets—interspersed with brief meditations on the seasons in the garden. The whole is generously and gorgeously illustrated with photographs by Koch’s daughter, Wendy Candelaria, a photographer, and paintings by Koch and her painter son, Jonathan. Recipes, text, images, font, and design are lush and stunning, appealing to the senses.

There is little so elementally comforting as preparing a meal using fresh ingredients grown and harvested with love. The Artist, the Cook, and the Gardener offers that kind of comfort, and clearly was a project that grew out of love—Koch’s love for her garden and food, and her collaborator, award-winning book designer Jenny Barry’s love for Koch’s art. We readers are blessed by the fruits of their work.

(The full review and an interview with Jenny Barry are posted on Story Circle Book Reviews, the largest site reviewing books for and by women on the web.)

Thanks to you all for reading along with me. I am fortunate to be part of such a nourishing community.