Where a Library Meets a Landscape: A Field Guide to Getting Lost at Oak Spring

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Where a Library Meets a Landscape A Field Guide to Getting Lost at Oak Spring Gretchen Ernster Henderson


Z This manual was not, originally, intended for publication. It originated in the mind of the writer, and was commenced as a private Note Book for her own study and convenience. But the further she proceeded, the more intensely interested she became in the subject … having been referred to judicious friends, it was subsequently decided to increase somewhat its size, and give it publicity … blank pages are left at the close of the book, on which new varieties … may be added from time to time. ~ By “An Amateur” author of The Illustrated Pear Culturist (1858) housed in the Library at Oak Spring Garden Foundation

Z Thanks to “judicious friends” Sir Peter Crane, Michael Gaige, Tony Willis, and others acknowledged at the end of this “Note Book.” ~ Oak Spring Garden Foundation, Upperville, VA (2020 - 2021) ~

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Field Studies

October-November 2020 January-February 2021

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Z “Reading the landscape is not just about identifying landscape patterns; more importantly, it is an interactive narrative that involves humans and nature.” ~ Tom Wessels, Reading the Forested Landscape One of our instructors describes “forest forensics” as we peer through the looking glass of Zoom. His shared screen moves through fields and woodlands, marked by human traces. An abandoned road. A crumbling stone wall. Maps layer maps: geologic, topographic, linguistic, economic. Indigenous, colonial, military, recreational. We travel virtually through the Piedmont region of Virginia, with its low undulating hills, west of tidal marshes of the Chesapeake, under the shadow of the Blue Ridge Mountains. We are “Reading the Landscape” of this patch of Fauquier County from our varied perspectives of ecology, paleobotany, forestry, landscape architecture, park interpretation, and other lenses: to piece together a story. Our motley crew includes the head gardener of an urban arboretum, a founder of a rural sustainability nonprofit, an environmental cartographer, and a backcountry ranger who migrates seasonally to work in restorative agriculture. Most of us live within a two-hour drive but have never visited this 700-acre farm called Oak Spring Garden Foundation (OSGF). We are considered locals, grounded in this region during the Covid-19 pandemic. I am a relative newcomer to the mid-Atlantic, originally from California and on the verge of moving to Texas. Given the pandemic, our residential course has shifted online, bookended by field days. As introduction, the ecology instructor leads us on a virtual tour of the landscape. People tend to overlook the East Coast’s subtle biodiversity, he tells us, in favor of the West’s more dramatic environments. He reads the landscape differently, as his 2018 inventory of these acres (that appear to be “mostly grass”) yielded 46 species of native trees: a small wonder compared with Yosemite and Yellowstone National Parks, which hold 35 species of native trees in their three million acres combined. With my roots near the Sierra Nevada, I admire the Blue Ridge Mountains as picturesque hills. My vantage from the arts and humanities makes me feel illiterate reading this landscape. Our ecology instructor shares vocabulary: forest structure, pillow and cradle, plow terrace, substrate, succession. “Most of these are nouns, just things,” he says. “I am hoping as part of this program that you can start stitching some of these nouns together in ways that create a narrative for various places that you visit.”

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By the time our computers blink to dark, in two hours, we have traversed centuries: glimpsed ancient geologic roots of the Appalachians climbing higher than the Alps and eroding toward Africa, as tectonic shifts rift the Atlantic Ocean. In the blink of an eye, giant bison roam meadows. Native cultivation and fire management sculpt fields. Colonial-settlers bring pandemics that decimate indigenous communities, as fields are re-plowed into small plantations, labored by enslaved African Americans. By human hands, the landscape keeps evolving: from a Civil War battlefield, to fox-and-hound hunting and equestrian grounds. Trees, mountains, and springs stand witness to these changes. Their history is borne out of and worn by the living landscape, and we are tasked to look for clues subtle as stones, leaves, and ponds.

Z

“The records are written in forests, in fencerows, in bogs, in playgrounds, in pastures, in gardens, in canyons, in tree rings.” ~ May Watts, Reading the Landscape of America Only recently I learned of Oak Spring through the reputation of its Library. Although the Foundation is young, just over five years old, the books range across centuries, and the estate is layered in deep time. The Library was the personal collection of Rachel (“Bunny”) Lambert Mellon who, with her husband Paul, dedicated their philanthropic fortune as the basis of the National Gallery of Art, Yale Center for British Art, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, and the Mellon Foundation. With Bunny’s death in 2014 came the birth of the Foundation to keep alive the influence of this place: reimagined. Where a Library Meets a Landscape ~ 6 ~ Gretchen Ernster Henderson


This acreage in Virginia was the “epicenter” of the Mellon’s global philanthropy, according to OSGF’s founding president, an esteemed paleobotanist who serves as the co-instructor of our course. Through Zoom, he tells us about the Mellon family legacy to provide historical context for the landscape. Photographs scroll through rooms of the house, the sun-lit library, close-ups of books and paintings on walls, the garden, buildings across the property, and galleries farther afield. As images scroll through our shared screens, it becomes clear that Oak Spring is more than a garden as it straddles a library, arboretum, biocultural conservation farm, and evolving site of place-based, plant-based interdisciplinary practices. Uneasily summed, curated spaces that straddle cultural-natural definitions fascinate me. It makes me question definitions of such entities, like “library,” whose etymology harks back to liber, often reduced to books but also related to tree bark. Reputedly, bark was used as a writing material in early Roman tradition, and curiously over centuries, pages accrued the nomenclature of “leaves.” Paper and pencils come from the pulp of trees. To take a leaf out of a person’s book, defines the Oxford English Dictionary, is to base one’s conduct on what a person does; to follow a person’s example. Since we have gathered for a course on “Reading the Landscape,” we are following the examples of a New England-based ecologist who has done fieldwork across the globe, and a paleobotanist who has hybridized science and administration to lead Chicago’s Field Museum, the UK’s Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, Yale’s School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, and now Oak Spring. The two instructors give different yet complementary introductions, which help us to integrate varied readings of this singular place. As we anticipate our visit, one classmate asks if we will see the biocultural conservation farm. Each of us is curious about Oak Spring for different reasons that will be illuminated during our field day, to occur entirely outdoors due to Covid-19. Although the Library will be closed, I hope that we might glimpse its windows while traversing the grounds, trying to decipher connections between stories bound in books and those written in the landscape’s bark and leaves.

Z “At Oak Spring, the story of rock begins nearly a billion years ago. The story of mountains reaches 30,000 feet. For oak the story begins in Asia. Each has a story of change in a complex, ever-moving landscape.” ~ Michael Gaige, An Oak Spring Landscape

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Amid a global pandemic, a field day with strangers seems a miracle. There are nine of us along with the two instructors. We arrive from Baltimore, Lexington, DC, the Shenandoah Valley, and closer: just over the ridgeline and right down the road. It is a Saturday morning in October, slightly overcast. Autumn colors tinge distant green woodlands and hills. GPS leads our drive from the nation’s capital down the interstate to backcountry roads, where descriptive directions feel more fitting: following a stone wall, turning at a junction marked by a giant oak, or plotting distance in red and white barns. A herd of white-tailed deer grazes in the field near the entrance, with a road leading toward converted horse stables. We park and prepare to walk. Over this first field day, our itinerary follows a rough figure-eight, clocking close to six miles. We look for trees, reading the shapes of round versus pointed leaves to distinguish white oak from red oak, comparing furrows and ridges of bark whose puzzled plates resemble cracked leather or shriveled skin. We follow stone walls, deciphering granite from metabasalt (locally “greenstone”), and learn other ways of reading. Stone walls grow from small, round, weathered stones dug up from crop fields, compared with larger, angled, mortared stones sculpted by masons for the Mellons. We pass spring houses (“Without a spring there isn’t a house, without a house there isn’t a farm”), following the hydrology of the landscape that naturally contours the land through erosion. Manmade ponds cluster near the main houses. Barer scapes are disturbed by fire, wind, storms, lightning. Grazed fields. Clustered stands of trees. Woodlands with active understories. We question presences and absences, successions and invasive species: how to read signs of transitions over centuries, before and after the arrival of our species. Traces remain from Native settlement, colonial homesteads, agricultural fields worked by enslaved peoples, equestrian farms, and the current biocultural conservation experiment. Although we are essentially in the same place, over time the landscape has taken on many meanings, depending on the eye of each beholder.

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Our morning traverses the farm called Oak Spring, and the afternoon moves to an adjacent Mellon property called Rokeby. We stop briefly midday for a picnic lunch at Oak Spring’s converted prized stables, which now serve as a conference center for workshops and residencies. (Without a global pandemic, we would have stayed on site for a week in the stalls-turned-suites.) We pass idiosyncrasies of privilege, including a nuclear fallout shelter and an airplane runway. Other stones mark life and death through more modest boxed walls around springs and a cemetery. A juvenile bald eagle flies at a distance. In a field, turkey vultures scavenge a dead baby red fox. On the driveway, bluebirds flit from fencepost to post. Throughout the day, without my glasses, the landscape blurs as an impressionist painting, coming into focus when I approach different tree trunks, finding their dimensions grow more legible (oak, sycamore, linden) when bark and leaves are touched through my fingertips.

The field day passes quickly. Toward the end of the visit, en route to Bunny’s famed garden, we bypass the closed Library. Its angular structure is shuttered, keeping out light, a seeming fortress amid a landscape that otherwise curves. The house, also white brick, grows as a French hamlet of interconnected cottages. Bunny’s garden sits like a secret within its walls and gates, which open to reveal vibrant beds of blooms, sculpted topiaries, and plantings that awaken senses beyond sight: through the sound of a breeze and aromatic herbs. Fragrances escape if you tread on planted cracks (with lavender, thyme) between stepping stones. The garden is exquisite. At the end of a trellised walkway of twining crabapples, glass doors lead to the jewel of a greenhouse. Its walls are painted as a trompe l’oeil, tricking our eyes into mistaking its flat surface for a three-dimensional world. Where a Library Meets a Landscape ~ 9 ~ Gretchen Ernster Henderson


Z “It is now time to step back and view the forested landscape at a larger scale.” ~ Tom Wessels, Reading the Forested Landscape In the humanities, the word “research” conjures visions of libraries as sources for reading. Through books, we learn to read flat surfaces as representations of a three-dimensional world. Over the years, my research has gravitated to libraries, books that are rare and otherwise, mixed with documents, manuscripts, and items that tend to fit in archival boxes. But the closer that I have attempted to read books, the more that the natural world has pressed back. The materiality of reading and writing grows around pages as leaves: woven as reeds of papyrus, rooted in clay seals and stone tablets, scraped as vellum of animal skins, and more. Wormholes dot pages of medieval marginalia twined with vines and wings, painted from pigments of crushed minerals, echoed in digital surrogates embedded with audio clips of birdsongs. From books of ice (a method of conservation) to dirty books (as in, used or well-read), I have tried to read libraries like landscapes (even writing a novel to be read as ecomaterial, so readers planted the book in California, watered and gave it a growth light in Ohio, also pollinated by bees, woven as leaves in tree branches in Illinois, and in Massachusetts, added it to a decomposing bookwall that was

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visited by a roaming bear). Beyond artistic license lies an underlying question: Where do libraries meet landscapes? And more pressing: despite overwhelming scientific data of climate change amid widespread denial of its crisis, are we missing something in our narratives if we miss the gap between landscapes and the libraries, neglecting the potential of this space that might serve as a threshold or bridge?

Z park, n. etymological origins from Anglo-Norman, Old and Middle French, Latin, British, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, and German sources to connote: a large enclosed area of land or woodland where one keeps and raises animals for the hunt; enclosed place planted with fruit trees, orchard; mobile enclosure where one keeps livestock when they sleep in the fields, area thus enclosed; pen for animals; large enclosed area of land or woodland maintained for the decoration of a castle or country house, or for pleasure or recreation; fortified camp, collection of vehicles which an army makes use of (without military connotations); artificially supported vine, fence, compound, enclosure. ~ Oxford English Dictionary To complement our field trip to Oak Spring, the class receives a homework assignment: to find a site near our homes to hone skills of observation. It is an assignment that I frequently give students (under a rubric of “A Field Guide to Getting Lost” borrowing a title by Rebecca Solnit), now served back to me. I live across the street from a block-sized park that has been under construction. A chain-linked fence follows a drainage ditch, a questionable creek, a rivulet with planks for crossing. I settle on this makeshift bridge for my site. One day when I visit, the ditch is dry. Another it rains, and the ground turns to sludge. When a construction crew comes, I stay away. Another day exposes a shard of glass, a seeming oyster shell, dirt and newly moved sticks, downed leaves, piles of fresh woodchips. A tree was removed, and its bark was mulched around other trunks. Shaded by heritage trees, the sloped park has been sliced by a long, metallegged ramp from the neighborhood’s busiest street to a new “nature-inspired playground” with faux logs and boulders with fake frogs, snakes, and spiders. The plank-bridge connects the playground to a wetland, downhill from overgrowth, often muddy from runoff. Over recent years in this small park, I have witnessed antlered bucks, red foxes, black and grey squirrels, and summer surges of fireflies. After I was hit by a car in a crosswalk, needing the better part of a year to recover, this quiet park contributed to healing and tuned me into scientific studies around health and nature. In Fall, its oaks, sycamores, maples, tulip poplars, and sweet gum rust in ruddy layers. Spring sprinkles the woods with blooming dogwood, redbud, and cherry trees. Summer grows so many shades of green, it seems the color is reinvented. Winter drapes the slopes in snow, with sledding toddlers and romping dogs, except last year, which brought barely a dusting.

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Around the edges of the park, cars speed past. Low-flying airplanes rattle the sky. Yet when quiet settles, the block-sized park invites rustling squirrels and rabbits, squawking jays, woodpeckers, and hoots of night owls. Weeks ago not far from the bridge, a spotted fawn bedded down in a thicket, ears perked, watching us with saucer eyes. When the city required that the park be renovated, most neighbors asked to keep its natural state and to only update the dilapidated playground. Public funds overlooked environmental mitigation of drainage issues (when the ditch under the bridge can run with oil-like sludge) while saving heritage trees. A new ramp was built off the farthest, busiest street rather than a closer, safer, more natural ADA option that would have showcased advances in Universal Design. From the annals of email, I dig up a neighborhood association’s grant application to restore woodland habitat, manage stormwater run-off, offer community seminars on native plants, rain gardens and green streets, partner with schools on education programs, work on invasive species removal and litter prevention, among other goals. The application was not granted, and over the pandemic, we have watched a fairly natural park built into what one neighbor called a “scar” and what another derided as “Disneyland.” As a noun, a “park” is a woodlands enclosure. To “park,” as a verb, means to stay in a place: To position, seat oneself. To settle. To place or leave (a person or thing) in a suitable or convenient place until required; to put aside for a while. Grounded in our locales, “park” is a fitting word for the pandemic. I put aside my feelings of bewildered loss over the park’s redesign and try to see it anew.

Z “There is good reading on the land, first-hand reading … I have opened the book of the land.” ~ May Watts, Reading the Landscape of America

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Our classes resume in Zoom around substrate, topography, and disturbance. Substrate, we learn, is the mineral matter on which soil forms. Topography connotes a landscape’s slope and pitch, measured and mapped as nested squiggles. Disturbance messes up patterns from fires, floods, windstorms, and human actions that lead to successions of new growth. Through our screens, we read satellite imagery and photographs—of a coastline with forested and smooth slopes, to a river valley under snowy mountains, to hills in a desert—trying to decipher why some are smooth versus tree-lined, with clumps of discolored forests or rockpiles, conjecturing why these landscapes came to be and what might come next. In all of the deciphering, we only gloss the readings: by Tom Wessels, by May Watts, by W. G. Hoskins. We talk about soil composition but nothing about the composition of their prose. The landscape that I usually inhabit is the substrate of vocabulary, the topography of line and tone. One reading includes the disturbance of text by illustrations. Enter “I”: a curious stranger having a picnic on sand as “we” follow her footsteps, positioned as her family or companions through a pronoun. Far from Virginia, we travel through a shared language (of colonized references), tracking her attention toward sand dunes in Indiana, on Lake Michigan, looking for plant roots that keep the dunes in place. Seeing is forgetting the name of the thing one sees, goes a saying, and this may be one reason why I love experiences like this: that take me outside of my own knowing, outside of classifications that I have inherited and tend to inhabit, outside of traditional libraries that prioritize human knowledge systems. Even as I follow our instructors, classmates, and readings (by example, as if taking a leaf out of each person’s book), their varied ways of seeing nicely disturb how words work for me as (de)classifications, reordering the world, allowing me to unlearn while learning. I try an experiment: to see each thing beyond names that I recognize. With each class, our human priorities mix behind trees, stones, and sand dunes that communicate nonverbal intensions. Trees branch toward light or open space. As soil freezes and thaws, stones rise like crops to be harvested. I try to forget what I know, to question not only what I see in a field (of hay, of grass) to something larger yet more subtle: how our disciplinary fields and thought systems have assembled to shape what we see (and what we don’t), at times separating us from the world of which we are part. The concept of “reading the landscape” takes on new dimensions as we peruse global maps. Our perspectives shift by observing mirrored ecosystems on either side of the equator (e.g., the Sahara and Kalahari Deserts in northern and southern Africa; the Sierra Nevada and Andes ranges in North and South America). The instructor has us look for patterns in color fields (the massive green spread of South America’s Amazon and Africa’s Congo Basin), then to scrolling photographs of landscapes, as we try to decipher subtler changes in a single place. Suddenly, the topography of a bog becomes dramatic as valleys and mountains, illuminating many microclimates. Another chapter by Watts brings us to campfires in Wisconsin. From my library in DC, I am reminded of Aldo Leopold in Arizona before his name appears in her book (remembering “pictures of dead deer in the snow—pictures that Aldo Leopold had shown”), reminding me less of Where a Library Meets a Landscape ~ 14 ~ Gretchen Ernster Henderson


these deer than the dying wolf with the “green fire” that famously worked its way over a lifetime into Leopold’s “land ethic,” as he grew to understand that “neither the wolf nor the mountain agreed with such a [human-centered] view.” The more places that I live and the more disciplines that I work across, the more I find shells of words, dying as they live, if overused or hardened as jargon. They may be legible to a field (in the sense of a discipline) but illegible to a field (of hay, of grass). Like a crosswalk, originally meaning “crisscrossing paths in a garden,” I wonder if the meaning of “library” may one day be rewilded, or whether it will harden like asphalt or dissipate into digital metadata like “crosswalk.” Does the Library at Oak Spring end at its building of shuttered windows and doors, or does it extend to the surveyed perimeter of the arboretum and farm, to the boundary of Virginia, or across the East Coast or even the Earth? Does an attempt to expand the concept of “library” into a Borgesian labyrinth teach us more about landscape or lure us away from living integrally with it? Our paleobotany instructor has written that the ginkgo’s “resilient life story offers hope for other botanical biographies that are still being written.” The ecology instructor tells us that his five-year-old daughter can already recognize red maples, seeing them on a landscape before he can. I wonder about growing up with this literacy around landscape, prehistoric and present, and what future may grow from these roots.

Z “The first president wanted the capital embedded in the South … both site and situation came down to the River’s fall line … He hoped canals and overland roads would make the river an artery of commerce connecting the western interior—‘the Ohio countrie’ beyond the mountains—and the trans-Atlantic world.” ~ Lauret Savoy, Trace: Memory, History, Race, and the American Landscape My husband and I drive the backbone of the Shenandoah National Park. To the east, mountains and hills ripple down toward the Chesapeake Bay, shaped by an ancient meteor and rivers draining to the Atlantic. To the west lies a parallel rank of mountains, cut by shadows of other ranges, laced in morning fog. It is the height of autumn color, yet the palate seems muted: another effect of the changing climate. We arrive early to beat the crowds. I recognize trees from Oak Spring—round-lobed leaves of white oak and pointed lobes of red oak— mixed with other deciduous trees, dramatic boulders and pinnacles jutting from the slopes. There are scattered pines, and at one point a cluster appears as if they are conferring. I look at more open adjacent spaces, similarly flat, and wonder what caused abrupt changes. The drive along the aptly named Skyline evokes more questions than answers. What plant sets Big Meadow ablaze with red? Why are

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intermingling ferns yellowed and green, dying and living? At vistas with gnarled dead trees, their isolation makes them more vulnerable to wind and weather like lightning. The map lists names—north to south: from Mathew’s Arm to Sawmill Run Overlook—and I wonder how these names came to be placed. They remind me of a college field trip to Gettysburg, where my history professor, James McPherson, walked the fields to read the landscape from a Civil War perspective. From dawn until dusk, he pointed out advantages of ridgelines, protective rock outcrops, and the famed open field of a fatal charge. I am not inclined to military history so am surprised that this long-ago field trip crops up in my memory. As a monument to a moment, Gettysburg’s undulating landscape resembles Oak Spring but is curated differently: tuned more toward the past than the future. The National Park Service brochure for Shenandoah mentions that the park was established in 1935 during the Great Depression. “Formed from over 1,000 privately owned tracts of land, Shenandoah started as a patchwork of forests, fields, orchards, and home sites.” The Civilian Conservation Corps came to build rustic park facilities, roads, and trails. A few years ago when visiting the park, we hiked to President Hoover’s retreat at Rapidan Camp, a seeming predecessor of Camp David, where we brokered peace with uncoiled copperheads, sunning on a patio. Following Skyline Drive gives us urbanites of the East a taste of national park experiences out West. It is hard not to think of the vulnerable state of national monuments, recent rollbacks of protections and increased extractions of resources on public lands. En route home through Charlottesville, we stop at the University of Virginia’s new Memorial to Enslaved Laborers. Dedicated in April 2020, the granite stone circle incises a sloped lawn (the “Triangle of Grass”), inscribed with names (“Stonecutter,” “Seamstress,” “Daughter,” “Walker Brown,” “Sally”) etched like waves in water. An estimated 5,000 enslaved African Americans worked the grounds from UVA’s construction in 1817 through the end of the Civil War in 1865. The Memorial lies not far from the site of the 2017 white supremacist rally that gathered with torches to protest the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee and incited violence, which led to the death of a counter-protester: yet another reminder that the past isn’t past. Human timescales are often told linearly as chronologies, but history may be better represented as stormy weather maps, stratigraphy compressed like stone, or rooted and ringed in trees. Where a Library Meets a Landscape ~ 16 ~ Gretchen Ernster Henderson


Back home by dusk, we walk into the urban park, seemingly separated by paved streets, yet interconnected with all of these places that interconnect the landscape of the mid-Atlantic.

Z “Although the Bull Run Mountains proper support a relatively sparse human population … to the east, a large population influx of more than 50,000 people is underway … bringing the western sprawl of the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area literally to the doorstep of the mountain.” ~ Gary Fleming, “Ecological communities of the Bull Run Mountains, Virginia” Our class reconvenes in Zoom around “Using Archives.” This is familiar territory, terrain that I recognize, yet it is always helpful to revisit old records through new eyes. Our screens move across eras and styles of maps, aerial photos, image overlays, deeds, census records, tax records, a slave census, agricultural records, and other documents of human-driven changes in the landscape’s puzzle. Overlays of digitally reproduced records reveal recurrences—names of owners, neighbors, buildings, patterns in plats and surveys—who and what and where, leading us to ask how and why. Lines of trees, stone walls, roads, and other delineations guide our orientation or fade as ghosts. Illegible handwriting on deeds yields another layer to decipher. An agricultural census record (1860) evokes an economy, as categories itemize: horses, asses and mules, milch cows, working oxen, other cattle, sheep, swine, wheat, rye, Indian corn, oats, rice, tobacco, ginned cotton, wool, peas and beans, Irish potatoes, sweet potatoes, barley, buckwheat, orchard products, wine, market gardens, butter, cheese, hay, clover seed, grass seeds, hops, prepared hemp, flax, flaxseed, silk cocoons, maple sugar, cane sugar, molasses, beeswax, honey, etc. We learn of “metes and bounds” as coordinates (N 27 E 164 to N 47 W 124) and descriptive markers (like “the first bound is a heap of stones”) or witness trees (“beginning at a black oak tree,” “a maple,” or “a large oak”). So much information gets bundled into a census record, or a deed, or place names and lines and symbols on a map, that it takes time to tease out a larger story, beyond any singular human’s span. Later I look up “witness trees” (or “bearing trees”) who live beyond human lifetimes. My cursory online search leads surprisingly less to property bounds and more to battle sites: a willow oak at Bladensburg from the War of 1812, a sycamore at Antietam and grand oak at Fredericksburg, an elm at the site of the Oklahoma City bombing. Gettysburg holds over a dozen witness trees (black walnut, swamp oak), including a branch exhibited in the Park’s Visitor Center, riddled with shrapnel, bullets and cannonballs. I grow uncomfortable as the search Where a Library Meets a Landscape ~ 17 ~ Gretchen Ernster Henderson


term leads to museum gift shops peddling “Witness Wood” (slices from a tree that stood beside Robert E. Lee’s battle tent) or carved wooden “witness” pens, cases, and bases for salvaged bullets. These commemorated and commodified trees raise a larger question of how we think about human traces on places, to what extent human histories of ownership and presence have been accompanied by violence, enslavement and extraction, more than stewardship and reciprocity. The pandemic that remains in our midst is entangled with the climate crisis that grows from human hands. As we learn to read the landscape (of Oak Spring, of Sky Meadows State Park, of Bull Run Mountains, and beyond) through the lens of biocultural conservation, the question that keeps persisting: what human traces are we leaving now that the future will read?

Z “These ugly wolf trees, these snags, these trees classified as worthless space fillers are valuable wildlife units in the vast stretch of North American woodland. ~ Charles Elliott, American Forests Through the looking glass of Zoom, we convene for our last virtual class. The lecture evening starts with a single tree—a wolf tree—with wide-spreading branches, hemmed in by younger forest. Photographs blink from wolf tree to tree: a paper birch in Alaska, a lodgepole pine in Colorado, a lenga tree in Chile. Each is gnarled and many limbed, withered majesties and wise elders, who might otherwise escape notice as ugly or be neglected as past their prime. They take up space: with wide branches that long ago had room to grow and stretch into the sun and open air, before a disturbance changed the landscape and brought surrounding newcomers. In photographed forests, we look for these legacy trees. Like the animals that share their name, these singular trees were once hunted, believed to prey on resources rather than supporting a wider web. Our ecology instructor has puzzled over their nickname, traced back to myriad sources: gods flanked by wolves, outlaws who hid in woods, pelts hung in trees as warning, as a withering sack of bones (as in, the only good wolf is a dead wolf). My mind drifts to fairy tales of disguised wolves—thieves and rogues and worse as “a wolf in sheep’s clothing”— where stereotypes congealed over centuries into cultural wars. Out West: ranchers bemoan endangered wolves, reintroduced decades after Leopold saw the dying green fire in a wolf’s eyes. A wolf differs from a wolf tree, but over the past half century, studies have shown how both have come to be re-viewed. Alongside neighboring upstarts, the ecologist has studied wolf trees. The dying and decaying elders attract life as more species come to feed, sing, perch, and nest. Birds flock to branches. A black bear leaves scat to mark territory. A hollowed trunk serves in different seasons as a den for coyote pups, as a shelter for a box turtle who curls up inside to die, undisturbed. Wolf trees are “the forest’s town square for Where a Library Meets a Landscape ~ 18 ~ Gretchen Ernster Henderson


animals,” according to the ecologist, with “furrowed and sloughing bark, cavities and hollows,” not to mention subterranean and fungal worlds. These old, often overlooked trees deserve more attention, which remind me of initiatives to salvage misshapen yet nutritious fruits, “ugly” animals and microbial life as integral to biodiversity as poster-friendly charismatic species. He reminds us that sixty years is young for a tree and can be better appreciated through non-human timescales. The paleobotanist excavates deeper time but calls it “the same stuff: understanding history to understand the present.” As we consider human interactions with trees, nouns shift to verbs: resprouting, pollarding, grafting, haloing, coppicing, managing forests. The evening leads us on virtual travels to see these verbs at work in a forest in Kentucky, in Connecticut, in upstate New York. It is not about identifying species and ecosystems as separate, not apart from, but a part of each other and us: rooting and branching.

Z “For one of us the find was a woven bedspread. For one the find was a song. For another the find was a word. For me the find was a forest.” ~ May Watts, Reading the American Landscape

Where a Library Meets a Landscape ~ 19 ~ Gretchen Ernster Henderson


Through morning fog, the forest bursts with reds, oranges, and golds. Bright leaves flare in gray mist. Our car startles an unseen bald eagle feeding on roadkill, rising with a wingspan wider than our windshield. Down a dirt road, our car winds into backwoods of the Bull Run Mountains. Led by GPS to a sign marked “No Trespassing” by an old stone house, we wonder if we have come to the right meeting place. Slowly our group materializes, car by car, as if out of the trees themselves, socially-distanced in this nature preserve. Today is our final field day: exploring the northern part of the Preserve managed by the Virginia Outdoors Foundation (VOF), a growing greenbelt in Fauquier County, southeast of Oak Spring. The woods are hilly, dense with autumn foliage and crops of stones. As we amble through the sloped forest, the ecologist points out oaks, beeches, tulip poplars, mountain laurel, and grapevines grown wild. A generation ago, he explains, we would have seen a forest dominated by American chestnuts, but a blight “dethroned the king,” leaving “opportunist” trees like tulip poplars to grow through succession. Species are relational in different ways: as opportunistic, where one exploits resources to colonize an environment; as parasitic, where one lives off another with fatal consequences; or as mutualistic, where both mutually benefit each other.

As we amble up the trail, likely an old road, what appears wild slowly reveals human signs. A toppled chimney of stones. A hearthstone covered by dirt and fallen leaves. A stone foundation that once grounded a cabin. Crumbling stone walls. A clearance cairn. An unmarked graveyard of weathered headstones and footstones. The signs grow more visible as the day wears on: if only because we are taught to see what otherwise might escape notice.

Where a Library Meets a Landscape ~ 20 ~ Gretchen Ernster Henderson


“These mountains were peopled for a long time,” says the VOF’s deputy director, one of our guides. The area served as a First Nations trade route before being settled by poor whites and African Americans escaping enslavement; the mountains overlapped with a stop on the Underground Railroad. “Much is unknown here because these were marginal peoples on marginal lands. They didn’t leave much of a paper trail,” she explains, “not diaries and deeds like the big landowners of plantations to the southeast.” Homesteads were near enough to holler over ridges and hollows, as generations of families grew up in proximity, working in pit quarries or at nearby grain and lumber mills. Later I will learn that Bull Run derived its name partly from the Powhatan Confederacy’s “Occoquan,” meaning “at the end of the water.” Early English colonists named the mountains from a “rundle” or “run” of water in one direction, not pulled by tides closer to the Chesapeake. While Bull Run is only an hour by car to the nation’s capital, people lived in these mountains into the early 1970s with no electricity or running water. “It wasn’t the best land, but they made a living off the land.” Beyond oral history and spare, scattered documents, much of their archives remain in nails, saw marks, and stones. A woodpecker stutters. A drizzle drums the canopy. Crisp leaves fall like rain. In the distance an airplane hums. The preserve lies near Dulles Airport, so birds need to sing louder. Flight paths and the railroad route affect regional dialects of birdsong. The pandemic has lent a new awareness to their quick ability to adapt, reverting to past complexities of song in the absence of noise. Step by step, we try to decipher the forest: through charred chimneys, crumbling stone stacked walls (with the largest convergence likened to Machu Picchu), springs and runoffs near daffodils, pawpaws, and yucca (“wisdom plants”) that signal once-active homesteads. Other inhabitants leave signatures on tree trunks: where black bears clawed towards beechnuts, deer rubbed their antlers, and slugs grazed trails over bark. “There are no fences to keep them in,” says the ecologist. “Land use happens at all scales. It’s not just about people.”

Where a Library Meets a Landscape ~ 21 ~ Gretchen Ernster Henderson


Where a Library Meets a Landscape ~ 22 ~ Gretchen Ernster Henderson


Relational dynamics play out in details. A tree grows around a rock, where we learn inosculation, meaning “to bring in close contact or union, to touch, to kiss.” We see a fungus called “earth tongue.” Later in a diagram of a tree identification guide, I see leaves with teeth and sinuses. Wherever I go, language leads to corporeal earth words, with bodies of water, necks of land, tree limbs, and heartwood. By day’s end, I feel surrounded by bodies: human and arboreal and avian. It would seem natural if voices were to rise over the ridge, if someone might walk around the bend, if smoke might curl from stone-stacked chimneys that once cooked meals and warmed hearths. The trees are living witnesses. The last thing we learn is how to core a tree, to date the rings. As the ecologist cores, it feels as if he is performing surgery to remove something vestigial. I touch the tree as if listening to a heart beating.

Z “Narratives give people an opportunity to learn about power and the myriad ways in which it can be expressed. And a narrative that is rich in diverse detail has the power to provide us with tools to create a future that defies a limited imagination.” ~ Carolyn Finney, Black Faces, White Spaces: Reimagining the Relationship of African Americans to the Great Outdoors Inside a walled cemetery, we hear the hum of the highway. Near a charred stone mill, the south end of the Bull Run Preserve butts up against a natural gap in the mountains where railroad tracks and Interstate 66 run. Forests coat the slopes with spindly bare branches. November sun streams through the open canopy, warming the cooling season, casting shadows. A few weeks have passed since our OSGF course ended. Thanks to a classmate’s recommendation, I find myself back in the Bull Run Mountains. A new group of strangers gathers for an interpretive hike led by the Preserve’s Cultural History Fellow. Some of us have visited the Preserve and wish to learn more of its history, while others are newcomers who learned of the event through social media including Outdoor Afro. “This is a journey that everyone should go on in their own context,” says our guide, who shares her personal history as a student at Howard University from Houston, with familial roots in Nigeria. Beyond well-documented cultural histories, she encourages listening for “adjacent narratives” behind documents, objects, ideologies and histories, as in: “Who is telling this story, and why? Are they in a position to tell this story? Who is in charge of this narrative?” The hike was advertised as “African American History of the Bull Run Mountains,” but she emphasizes this is “American history.” Leaving the walled cemetery of marked graves, associated with white descendants related to the mill, we walk to homesites deeper in the forests related to three Black families: Coles, Corums, and Robinsons. Free Blacks settled the Bull Run Mountains before the Emancipation Where a Library Meets a Landscape ~ 23 ~ Gretchen Ernster Henderson


Proclamation, with families living in its hollows without electricity or running water into the 1970s. While neighboring Fauquier County (where Oak Spring lies amid other former plantations) has an Afro-American Historical Association, no equivalent exists yet in Prince William County. Our guide has spent the pandemic puzzling together the landscape’s history through archival documents, from census records to draft cards, with oral histories and second-hand narratives adjacent to white histories that have dominated this area’s story. On the trails through forested slopes and rocky precipices, stones crop up everywhere: marking stream runoffs, jutting from hilly ledges as hewn quarries. Some stones stand erect in the trail, causing a few hikers to trip. “This landscape poses a problem for any archaeologist who comes here,” says the Preserve Manager, a biologist by training who formerly worked at the Smithsonian, whose surname is Italian and who grew up in the area. “Everything looks like something. Tree roots grab a stone and turn it upright,” resembling unmarked tombstones on hillside cemeteries.

One of our stops is a still-standing house, boarded up to prevent trespassers. The house holds an impressive stone chimney like those we saw on the north end of the Preserve freestanding as trees. Here, the chimney remains intact with its deteriorating house, but openings have allowed it to become a nesting site for black vultures: a protected species. The Preserve Manager describes the challenges of balancing cultural and natural conservation. In this wildlife corridor, he asks, “What is the appropriate conservation for a cabin like this?” Unlike communities of the Shenandoah Mountains, who were paid to leave with the establishment of the National Park, inhabitants of the Bull Run Mountains left on their own for better opportunities and living conditions. Racial oppression remains in records through land

Where a Library Meets a Landscape ~ 24 ~ Gretchen Ernster Henderson


ownership as liens against properties, as back taxes attributed to descendants. His job as a land manager includes advocating for environmental justice, applying for grants to pay off debts against prior inhabitants. The last site on our hike is an unwalled cemetery of unmarked graves on a ridge, dotted by archaeological white flags. A descendant recently visited and shared memories from these mountains. Her mother is buried under one of the unmarked stones. “A lot of this research is not definitive,” says the Cultural History Fellow. “There are a lot of times I tell people ‘perhaps,’ ‘maybe,’ ‘likely’—but I can say with certainty: there was community ingenuity.” She recounts sites that we have visited: homesteads, quarries, cemeteries, streams for water, trails for commutes by foot to mills and to school buses. “Why is this important? Because they lived; they existed; they took up space. They deserve to be researched and have their story told. It is in the hands of the future who comes with us: whose stories are told or forgotten.” Dusk is descending, and we stand on the ridge witnessing the molten sun. One hiker admires the peaceful vantage for the cemetery. Another shares that she feels her ancestors here. Another shares that environmentalism tends to be associated with Whiteness, while African American legacies live perhaps more deeply in the landscape, including Harriet Tubman who read forests, marshes, and stars as closely as life depended on it. The Preserve Manager shares his hopes to be succeeded one day by a descendent of the Bull Run Mountains and, for now, to devote his stewardship efforts to “those who come after us” by acting on a recurring question: “What kind of ancestors do we want to be?” By the time that we return to our car, darkness has descended. As we drive the highway toward the sprawling suburbs of Washington, DC, the mountains melt into agricultural lands. In the 1990s, a new site for Disneyland was proposed for this vicinity in celebration of Americana, replete with rides around Disneyesque plantations. “What was most alarming,” historian Ed Ayers wrote, “other than the fact that it was displacing a real historical place, was they were taking away something real and replacing it with something made up.” As we near Washington, a motorcade of black SUVs with police escort cuts off the traffic. The motorcade appears presidential, a week after the 2020 election, powerful enough to force us onto an exit. Backroads lead us home.

Z “…a garden, hovering always in a state of becoming, sums up its own past and its future.” ~ Rachel “Bunny” Lambert Mellon, quoted in The Gardens of Bunny Mellon

Where a Library Meets a Landscape ~ 25 ~ Gretchen Ernster Henderson


Where a Library Meets a Landscape ~ 26 ~ Gretchen Ernster Henderson


Months roll forward like rippling slopes of the Blue Ridge and Bull Run Mountains. Leaves fall and mount in piles, littering streets and gutters, fields and lanes, until all branches are bare. The pandemic keeps us grounded in the mid-Atlantic. After a masked afternoon visit to the Oak Spring Library in November to meet with the paleobotanist and the librarian, I return in January for a socially-distanced immersion in both the library and landscape, to explore the threshold of indoors and out, to finalize plans for a short course on “Writing the Landscape.” The first day is clear as late autumn. By night, the landscape blankets in snow. And it snows. Snow on snow on snow. Two days and nights without stopping, thick flakes cover the garden, every stone and brick, trimmed boxwoods and espaliered branches, sculpted holly topiaries, the crabapple allée, rooflines of houses and greenhouses, spring boxes, fenceposts and stone walls, barns and outbuildings, turrets at the biocultural conservation farm, across rolling fields and the long runway. All disappears in a blur of white. In the guest house overlooking the courtyard garden, I am the only resident. Others live socially distanced across the 700 acres, so I don’t see a soul. In a suite labelled Poppy, blooms splash across pillows, my bed canopy, drapes and walls, wildly tamed in frames akin to a gallery (replete with captions in a welcome binder): bright contrasts to the snowy landscape. Later I will learn that Jacqueline Kennedy stayed in this suite when she visited Bunny Mellon, a best friend who designed the White House Rose Garden. While Oak Spring is clearly the Mellon’s former estate, the landscape evolves beyond a single human lifetime to prevent it from becoming a mausoleum to any given occupant. Inside this suite named for a flower, even in winter, the picture window frames an ever-changing garden. The view beckons me outdoors. Paths lead through the blanketed garden into fields, new and old forests, as sky disappears behind cloudcover and obscures long views. Snowdays bring a state of suspension, as before and after dissolve into now. Proximal wonders stop me, still: red cardinals in snow, speckled sparrows in bushes, a bald eagle soaring over Goose Creek. Deer and rabbit tracks mark trails. The ponds freeze so ice swirls in dark water. Snow clings to grasses, logs, crooked branches, rows of saplings, fenceposts, even solar panels. The only sounds are whirring wind, occasional birdsong, and the crunch of my boots on snow. Land turns to sky, as the horizon dissolves, so all of us blur with the landscape. When I circle back, recrossing trails, my perceptions backtrack as if these footprints belong to someone else. Yet I recognize these imprints: barely legible, already filling with snow. They lead me to wonder which animals crossed the path before, and who will come after. Gardens, farms, hills. Split-rail fences and stone walls seem to lead in every direction, etched in white, silhouetting branches as delicate veins and traceries. Gray sky dims at dusk. No sun sets behind falling snow. Back in my heated room, the windows darken behind lamplight. In quiet moments, between walks and Zoom meetings farther afield, I read about the Library through hefty volumes on Sylva, Pomona, Flora, and Herbaria. I read about what is less apparent in winter: about wildflowers and the abundant spring that lies waiting, here, underfoot.

Where a Library Meets a Landscape ~ 27 ~ Gretchen Ernster Henderson


Where a Library Meets a Landscape ~ 28 ~ Gretchen Ernster Henderson


Where a Library Meets a Landscape ~ 29 ~ Gretchen Ernster Henderson


Z “These books about the outdoors live not in dusty darkness, but behind simple pale oak doors, easily opened to the world they tell about.” ~ Rachel “Bunny” Mellon about the Oak Spring Library After two days, the sun finally rises. Over the snow, dawn sears the sloping hills, burnished gold, under long sprays of white clouds. The cold blue sky electrifies. Shadows rise from trees, as if puppeteered by sun, reviving with light. The Library reopens. Indoors, even shuttered from sunlight, a garden grows: from leaves of books on tables, framed on walls, painted on cabinets, emerging from shelves and behind doors. The interior landscape springs to life with verdant leaves, red blooms, and lapis blues. From manuscripts to books, petals splay in isolation or curl in tendrils of marginalia around butterflies and fruits, as birdwings dare to fly beyond gilded borders. My time in the Library is short, given COVID, just over an hour each day. But the visits lend a sense of where this library and landscape meet. As patterns grow indoors and out, I better understand this Library as a “working collection” for Mrs. Mellon and her gardeners. The librarians share treatises on training espaliers, plans for potagers, diagrammed tools for cutting and pruning. Flowers that bloom around Oak Spring emerge in two dimensions: printed, hand colored, even pressed as specimens in centuries-old herbals, defying annual and perennial timelines. In a page, pupae metamorphose into butterflies, while other books symmetrically parcel estates with boxwoods, or let gardens grow allegorically wild, as lions mix with the likes of lambs. Seasons shift with each page-turn: from wintry snowscapes, sowed with seeds of spring, thickening through summer, to be reaped of autumnal harvests. The landscapes keep shifting beyond Virginia, across geographies and centuries and disciplines, branching across horticulture, botany, natural history, landscape design, and related fields. The world can converge in a single landscape, in a single flower, in a single seed. When you sit and focus on a flower, then add landscape upon landscape, seeds can imaginatively root and branch, leaving inherited knowledges in relief, trimmed of weeds. A seeming threshold becomes impervious: as outdoors grow in, and indoors grow out. My visits to the Library interlace my walks outside its walls. Outside a tree acts as a sundial that marks hours. Inside, centuries unfold in pages. Having worked at Oak Spring for decades, the librarians become part of this landscape. One shares his gardening stories and shows me literal seeds: in a wooden box from a late 19th-century Shaker community in rural New York with sealed packets (of cucumber, dill, musk melon) that are scheduled to be opened soon by a conservator. He tells me that Oak Spring’s farm manager hopes to plant them in the biocultural conservation farm, to see if the seeds might yet grow.

Where a Library Meets a Landscape ~ 30 ~ Gretchen Ernster Henderson


Even on a spare winter day, behind vaulted doors, reminders grow from what seems inert or dormant, holding life. And the flip side: anything made by humans ultimately stands at the mercy of light, water, wind, earth and natural elements.

Z “Be very careful what you do. Everything is a flower—until it’s not. Utilize anything and everything possible. Go slow, take your time; no rushing. When snipping, pinching, or pruning, follow the template and keep it open so you can see the sky.” ~ “Unofficial rules of Oak Spring Garden,” quoted in The Gardens of Bunny Mellon As my week at Oak Spring draws to a close, the snow melts. Paver stones and pathways reemerge. Ice dissolves into the garden’s reflecting pools. Yellowed grasses recolor fields to resemble late autumn. The landscape appears strangely similar to when I arrived, yet has changed, as if all seasons had unfolded during this short span. On my penultimate visit to the Library, the librarians and paleobotanist host an impromptu birthday tea party. They gift me A NineteenthCentury Garden, a booklet of reproduced color prints once carried by traveling nursery salesmen. I thumb through species: Northern Spy Apple, New American Weeping Willow, Hovey’s Seedling Strawberry, Bleeding Heart, and imagine these seeds traveling the American landscape. In the reading room is a pop-up display of personal items of Bunny Mellon, including her watercolors and a handheld field guide with a childhood inscription: Rachel Lambert, from Grandpa, May 13, 1921. Thanks to the person who gifted this field guide, “Wild Flowers East of the Rockies” left an indelible impression: teaching her to notice living, growing things around her that she hadn’t noticed before. A small detail can quiet a person into a shared experience. Beyond this inscription, it is hard for me to fathom the Mellon’s legacy and lifestyle that shaped this land in the shadow of the Blue Ridge Mountains now called Oak Spring. What they referred to as Rokeby witnessed changes over years: racing horses, grazing cattle, a gallery of art, even a replica of a French village. What appears solid as a stone wall may have been moved overnight by masons at Mrs. Mellon’s request. In timescales, the Mellons’ imprint on this landscape was short; in over a half-century, they assembled a 4000-acre estate near Upperville that ended up parceled into state parks, private hands, and a 700-acre Foundation evolving as “a new center of stimulation of all things botanical.” To some degree, the Mellons conserved the land enough for it to retain the capacity to evolve, to change. It wasn’t paved over or extracted of its natural resources. The Library, as one of the youngest buildings on the property (dating to 1981 and expanded in 1997), was built in the middle of a living landscape, to be read in that context.

Where a Library Meets a Landscape ~ 31 ~ Gretchen Ernster Henderson


Visiting the Oak Spring Library is different than my experiences of other libraries, including those where my husband and I currently work. Our urban campus libraries are hemmed in by pavement and plazas. Going outside does not feel outdoors, in a natural sense; interior and exterior spaces are centered around humans and human pursuits. Oak Spring’s landscape invites attention beyond-the-human and makes me wonder: can libraries evolve to deepen humanity’s interdependent place in the natural world? “Conservation” is integral to both collection management and land management. Amid widespread denial of the climate crisis, do traditional understandings of libraries contribute to separated fields, like “environmental studies,” or can libraries help to shift disciplines and methods to more organically permeate each other, seeping into wider information systems, infrastructures, and practices? Cataloguing methods organize information through data and divisions, to support care and access, yet classifications can overshadow extractive colonial histories of collecting alongside integrative attributes (like material sources and embodied engagements: of making and unmaking, of recycling and regenerating) that are indebted to landscapes. Might libraries like Oak Spring grow organic methodologies of how we study the natural world and our place in it? Such knowledges are not necessarily new yet may want for renewal. As botanist Robin Wall Kimmerer (Anishinaabe) writes: “In indigenous ways of knowing, other species are recognized not only as persons, but also as teachers who can inspire how we might live. We can learn a new solar economy from plants, medicines from mycelia, and architecture from the ants. By learning from other species, we might even learn humility.” As the snow melts, as the weather warms, the landscape continually shifts. As sparrows flit near my window, a sparrow-sized human crosses a distant field. A pair of horses graze in a neighbor’s corral and curiously approach the fenceline. My depth perception continually shifts across non-human and human scales, to notice what is here in connection with places beyond the horizon. Gardeners slip into the courtyard to check dormant flowerbeds. Arborists climb ladders to prune leafless apple trees. More staff return to tend Oak Spring’s greenhouses and grounds. An administrator tours me inside buildings to share built histories and renovations. I question and listen to layered stories, inside and out, lulled repeatedly back to the landscape and language that attempts to describe ‘it’: land, place, nature, environment. My language falls short, to inarticulate communications as actions speak louder than words, as barking dogs lead me to spy a red fox running out of sight. The paleobotanist shares an article that he has co-written about Dumbarton Oaks, a similar estate-turned-library-museum-garden in Washington, DC, where I previously have brought students on field trips. “In simple terms,” he writes, “it is not hard to make the case that gardens, as plots of land purposefully managed by people, have negative consequences for the environment … Over the past fifty years the trend toward more sustainable gardening practices has intensified, driven by increased environmental consciousness as well as improved understanding of the interconnectedness of ecological systems at multiple scales.” I think of landscapes surrounding other libraries, near as Dumbarton Oaks or Winterthur in the mid-Atlantic, and far as the Global Seed Vault in Svalbard beyond the Arctic Circle.

Where a Library Meets a Landscape ~ 32 ~ Gretchen Ernster Henderson


A gardener walks me around the courtyard, describing gardening plots and experimental flowerbeds, also pointing out whimsical butterflies in brick and decorative birdcages. Mrs. Mellon was self-taught and constantly changed the garden, so the constant of this garden is: change. “She took humble, simple plants and made them transcendent,” the gardener tells me. “Her sense of perfection was imperfection.” (An illustrative anecdote: when her mason apologetically broke a paver stone in the garden, she favored the accident and started to break other stones, plugging open spots of soil with seeds, yielding herbs and wildflowers.) “This really is a Spring garden,” says the gardener, and encourages me to return next season. At the biocultural conservation farm, the farm manager walks me into greenhouses (green this season with leafy spinach and lettuces) and around winter-covered plots growing vegetables and plants suited to natural dyes, papermaking, and medicinal herbs. After Mrs. Mellon’s death, these plots shifted from cut flower gardens to support “biocultural” and “conservation” efforts: to connect people with plants. In nonpandemic circumstances, the farm and garden support a CSA (community-supported agriculture) and meals for those who live on site, including visiting scholars, artists, and apprentices. During the pandemic, their efforts have shifted to supply homegrown food to local food pantries (over 22,000 pounds of fresh produce!). The biocultural conservation farm is also dedicated to heritage crops and heirloom seed saving and exchange for the Appalachian region. The farm works with regional families, including one who has saved seeds since the 1700s. On my last walk through the landscape, I think back to the seeds in the Shaker box in the Library, as well as the conservator who will soon discern how to safely open the packet: trying not to destroy either the manmade paper packet or the cultivated natural seeds, so they may yet germinate and grow after so many years. I think back to myriad animals encountered over my past week: a few dozen white-tailed deer, eastern bluebirds, red-shouldered hawks, woodpeckers, red foxes, a great blue heron, and more. Unlike most libraries that I know, there is something very different about visiting a library surrounded by wildflowers, vegetables beds, farm fields, woods and hills, whose overriding impression is the landscape. Even in quietude, the landscape at Oak Spring talks back to the Library and invites presence, in the present. A visitor cannot help but experience one without the other. Here, the landscape and the library are indelibly connected. As they grow in and out of each other (and into us who visit), they teach us renewed ways to read and to write—both into and out of—our shifting place in an interdependent world.

Z

Where a Library Meets a Landscape ~ 33 ~ Gretchen Ernster Henderson


Where a Library Meets a Landscape ~ 34 ~ Gretchen Ernster Henderson


Z “… blank pages are left at the close of the book, on which new varieties … may be added from time to time …” ~ by “An Amateur,” The Illustrated Pear Culturist (1858), in the Oak Spring Library

Where a Library Meets a Landscape ~ 35 ~ Gretchen Ernster Henderson


Where a Library Meets a Landscape ~ 36 ~ Gretchen Ernster Henderson


P Acknowledgments & Bibliography Thanks to instructors Michael Gaige and Sir Peter Crane, along with fellow participants, of “Reading the Landscape” at the Oak Spring Garden Foundation in Upperville, VA in October 2020. In November 2020, Peter Crane and librarian Tony Willis kindly welcomed me and my husband into the Library. In late January-early February, I was grateful for a week at Oak Spring’s landscape and Library. In addition to Peter and Tony, additional thanks to those who I met during my visit: Nancy Collins, Kimberly Fisher, and Ricky Willis in the Library; Allissa Montgomery in the Garden; Christine Harris at the Biocultural Conservation Farm; Cathy Muckerman who toured me through the house and other buildings; and Ana Carniero for her hospitality. At the Bull Run Mountains Preserve, thanks to guest lecturers Barinaale Dube, Cultural History Fellow; Joe Villari, Preserve Manager; Summers Cleary, Preserve Specialist; Leslie Grayson, Deputy Director of Virginia Outdoors Foundation; and Kristie Kendall, Historic Preservation Manager for the Piedmont Environmental Council. Thanks to many others who steward this evolving region. As I learn to read the landscape, forgive any errors on behalf of this author. Some references in this “Note Book” include: Afro-American Historical Association of Fauquier County: aahafauquier.org. Bull Run Mountains Natural Preserve Area (see Virginia Outdoors Foundation): vof.org /protect/reserves/bull-run-mountains/. Crane, Peter. Ginko: The Tree that Time Forgot (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2013); see also Peter Crane, with Peter Kavalier, “The Dumbarton Oaks Landscape: Origins, Nature and the Environment” (forthcoming from Dumbarton Oaks). Derryberry, Elizabeth P., et al. “Singing in a silent spring: Birds respond to a half-century soundscape reversion during the COVID-19 shutdown.” Science, vol. 370, issue 6516 (2020). Elliott, Charles. “Woodman, Spare that ‘Wolf’ Tree.” American Forests, vol. 15, no. 10 (1945), reprinted 10/03/2014; see also Michael Gaige. “Wolf Trees: Elders of the Eastern Forest.” American Forests (2014). Finney, Caroline. Black Faces, White Spaces: Reimagining the Relationship of African Americans to the Great Outdoors (Chapel Hill, NC: UNC Press, 2014). Fleming, Gary. “Ecological communities of the Bull Run Mountains, Virginia … for conservation planning and natural area stewardship.” Natural Heritage Technical Report (Richmond, VA: Department of Conservation and Recreation / Division of Natural Heritage, 2002). Gaige, Michael. An Oak Spring Landscape: History, Ecology, and Management at the Oak Spring Garden Foundation (OSGF, 2018) and Rokeby: A Landscape Biography: History, Ecology, and Management at the Oak Spring Garden Foundation (OSGF, 2019). Henderson, Gretchen E. “This is Not a Book: Melting Across Bounds,” Journal of Artists’ Books (2013); “Thinking Like a Crosswalk,” Ploughshares (2019); and “What is Research? An exercise in Slow Research,” Ransom Center Magazine Online (2020). Where a Library Meets a Landscape ~ 37 ~ Gretchen Ernster Henderson


Holden, Linda Jane, et al. The Gardens of Bunny Mellon (New York: Vendome, 2018). Leopold, Aldo. A Sand County Almanac: Sketches Here and There (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989 [1949]). Kimmerer, Robin Wall. “Nature Needs a New Pronoun: To Stop the Age of Extinction, Let’s Start by Ditching ‘It,’” Yes Magazine (03/30/2015). Oak Spring Garden Foundation: osgf.org. Piedmont Environmental Council: pecva.org Raphael, Sandra. An Oak Spring Sylva (OSGF, 1989) and An Oak Spring Pomona (OSGF, 1990)*. Savoy, Lauret. Trace: Memory, History, Race, and the American Landscape (Berkeley, CA: Counterpoint, 2015). Shenandoah National Park, official National Park Service brochure with map (October 2020). Solnit, Rebecca. A Field Guide to Getting Lost (New York: Penguin, 2005). Suarez, Chris. “Disney’s ‘lost’ America: History derailed Virginia theme park 25 years ago,” Richmond Times-Dispatch (08/11/2019). Tomasi, Lucia Tongiorgi. An Oak Spring Flora (OSGF, 1997) and with Tony Willis, An Oak Spring Herbaria (OSGF, 2009) and Paul and Bunny Mellon: Visual Biographies (OSGF, 2020). Van Ravenswaay, Charles. A Nineteenth Century Garden (New York: Main Street Press, 1977). Virginia Outdoors Foundation: vof.org Watts, May Theilgaard. Reading the Landscape of America (New York: Nature Study Guild, 1985, reprint of second edition 1975 [1957]). Wessels, Tom. Reading the Forested Landscape: A Natural History of New England (New York: Countryman Press, 1999) and Forest Forensics: A Field Guide to Reading the Forested Landscape (Woodstock, VT: Countryman Press, 2007). Definitions (e.g., “book,” “library,” “park,” and others) from the Oxford English Dictionary Online. * The epigraph of this “Note Book” is reproduced in Oak Spring’s Pomona (p. 228), herein changed to “she” to accord with my authorship. Images Photographs in this notebook were taken by the author as visual “field notes” and correspond with places noted in entries. For study photos from the Library (note: these are not formal reproductions; see Oak Spring Library guidelines for details): page-spreads on p. 29 come from (top L-R): A herbal ([Italy], c. 1455); Francois de Geest, Jardin de rares et curieux fleurs … ([Holland], c. 1660); Atlas des domaines de la terre de Mangé ([France], c. late 18th century); (bottom L-R): Maria Sibylla Merian, Dissertatio de generatione et metamorphosibus insectorum Surinamensium (Amsterdam, 1719); Book of Hours [Horae Beatae Mariae Virginis ad usum Romanum], attributed to Simon Bening, ([Bruges], c. 1524); Hans Simon Holtzbecker, An album of plants ([Hamburg], c. 1655); and on p. 34 (top L): Abraham Munting, Phytographia Curiosa … ([Amsterdam], 1713): a page that is reproduced in Oak Spring’s trompe l’oeil (top right); (bottom): box of Shaker seeds from Mt. Lebanon, New York, late 19th-century; and Charles A. Reed, Flower Guide: Wild Flowers East of the Rockies, Revised and with New Illustrations (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1920) inscribed to Rachel Lambert (Bunny Mellon) by her grandfather. Other intermixed photos here include a greenhouse off the trompe l’oeil and the biocultural conservation farm. Where a Library Meets a Landscape ~ 38 ~ Gretchen Ernster Henderson


Where a Library Meets a Landscape ~ 39 ~ Gretchen Ernster Henderson


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