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new england literary news | Nina maclaughlin

Snapshot of New England forest; America’s unnecessary boundaries

John Hirsch

The story in the trees

New England is losing 65 acres of forest a day to development, according to a recent Harvard study. A new book of photographs captures a moment in time at the Harvard Forest in Petersham, 3,750 acres of living laboratory. It’s “a place where time’s passage is more consciously studied than almost anywhere on the planet,” as Boston photographer John Hirsch puts it in the opening to his subtle, lovely new collection of photographsAnd Again: Photographs from the Harvard Forest’’ (Harvard Forest).

Ferns, birch, dirt, a heap of moose scat that looks like moldy chocolate truffles, the images show woodscapes familiar to anyone who’s tromped trails in New England. And Hirsch also shows the science taking place: tubing dangles from a hemlock tree like bright vines; a blue cooler perches on a rock by brook; a yellow hardhat almost blends into the landscape. Essays by David Foster, Clarisse Hart, and Margot Anne Kelley ground the work and explore the intersection of art and science.

Hirsch’s images ask us to reckon with time: How have our economic, consumer, and cultural activities, our choices, changed the earth? And how has the earth changed us? These sober photographs, rich with detail, of the speckles on pitcher plants, of pollen on water, whisper at the pleasure and the consequence of paying attention.


A landscape of words, pictures

A collaboration called “Boundaries’’ (Two Ponds) combines the verse of presidential inaugural poet Richard Blanco and the landscape photography of Jacob Hessler, both Maine residents, in a stirring book, which serves as both exploration and antidote to American divisions of race, gender, class, and ethnicity. The book, which is also appearing as an exhibit at the Maine Center for Contemporary Art from Feb. 17 through May 27, is a “response against the black-and-white constructs of . . . boundaries,” setting out “to correct these one-dimensional narratives that perpetuate an us vs. them mindset,” as Blanco writes. Blanco read as part of President Obama’s second inauguration, and his earthy poetry makes a powerful pairing with Hessler’s American landscapes. We see a familiar Main Street stoplight, a desolate rest stop in the West, a Florida beach where many Cuban refugees make landfall. Dividers, natural and man-made, appear with subtle elegance in his images, with the echo through all of them that each image appears under an “undivided sky.” A reading and reception for the exhibit will take place next Sunday from 1 to 4 pm at the Maine Center for Contemporary Art.


Tales of displacement

In Vermont writer Elena Georgiou’s new collection of stories, The Immigrant’s Refrigerator’’ (GenPop), characters from here and away grapple with ideas of homeland and long for connection. Somali immigrants in Maine are given handmade chocolates; in Vermont, a refugee from Niger helps his bereft host with cheese. KL Pereira’s story collection A Dream Between Two Rivers’’ (Cutlass) blends myth, fairy tale, and folklore in stories of those who exist on the outskirts and the edges, women, kids, and immigrants, and have to cross a variety of literal and figurative boundaries. Both writers explore ideas of otherhood, displacement, danger, hope, and home. On Tuesday, Feb. 13 at 6 p.m. at the Boston Public Library, a program called “Lost Between Nations — Exploring Immigration, Refugees, and Identity,” the two authors will be in conversation moderated by writer Shuchi Saraswat.


Coming out

Speak No Evil’’ by Uzodinma Iweala (Harper)

American Histories’’ by John Edgar Wideman (Scribner)

The Emissary’’ by Yoko Tawada, translated from the Japanese by Margaret Mitsutani (New Directions)

Pick of the week

Kenny Brechner of Devaney, Doak & Garrett Booksellers in Farmington, Maine, recommends Savage Harvest: A Tale of Cannibals, Colonialism, and Michael Rockefeller’s Tragic Quest’’ (William Morrow): “The tragedy of Michael Rockefeller’s death is made far more poignant by the larger tragedy of the environment that surrounded it. Faulty ethnographic assumptions, compounded by unsettling socio-economic factors, bring a depth and pathos. A rare balance of mystery and the author’s slowly unfolding epiphany of understanding is maintained throughout this riveting and edifying work of nonfiction.”

Nina MacLaughlin is the author of “Hammer Head: The Making of a Carpenter.” She can be reached at nmaclaughlin@gmail.com.