Last summer, in a feature on Laura Silverman of The Outside Institute (read it here), I introduced you to Mother Nature’s lithe sister who walks the valleys and back channels of the Catskill Mountains paying homage to each branch, bud and leaf. Since then, Laura has been busy: guiding nature walks, making deeply satisfying libations at The Stickett Inn and sharing her passions, her gifts and her knowledge freely. Somehow, in the midst of all of that busyness, she also wrote a book — The Outside Institute Field Guide to the Hudson & Upper Delaware Valleys, Volume 1 — Summer. So, now, when you can’t join Laura on the trails, you can steep yourself in her wisdom with this inspired little tome in your hands.
I had the chance to meet up with Laura recently at Main Street Farm in Livingston Manor, now a veritable “I am starting a business in the Catskills“ meeting spot on weekdays. Three women were planning their photo calendar for the year. Two hipsters were outlining their real estate strategies. Laptops. iPads. Interns from Catskill Mountainkeeper were coming and going with snacks and soups. A tourist trying to blend in with faded overalls tied at the waist with a knotted bandana stood next to a local in her own work-faded overalls. While we were talking, John Westergreen, proprietor, stopped by to say hello and promptly bought 50 copies of Laura’s book, admiring my fresh copy which had just been unsheathed from its dragonfly wrapping paper.
The Field Guide reminds me of childhood clubhouses with their secret knocks and treaties sealed with a spit handshake. It is bound with a single yellow rubber band down the center. The cover, a natural tan with flecks of fiber. The title emblazoned on a simple white sticker and hand stamped with The Outside Institute’s circled branch emblem, like a brand burned into a cowhide. When open, it has a hand-typed feel. The green print teleports you closer to nature as you start to read. Start anywhere. The hand illustrations look familiar and feel botanical.
I opened to Japanese Knotweed, a vilified invasive that my bees love. I read about how it grows, its nutritional value, how to cook it, when to harvest it and the medicinal value it holds. It’s a beautiful plant when it blooms; the Victorians thought so too. But its fast-spreading stands choke out native plants that are better supports for stream shorelines. Every entry includes identifiers and recommendations.
I looked up the Eastern Black Bear, a mammal with which I have had my fair share of conflicts this summer. Of note is the fact that bears have a “sense of smell seven times greater than that of a dog” and can “open screw-top jars and manipulate door latches.” Yup. This, I know. As I continue between its sections for plants, trees, fungi, birds, mammals, amphibians and reptiles, I find familiar faces and new information. I toggle between them and know my copy will soon become dog-eared and well-worn.
The book’s title is a harbinger of good things to come. Volume 1. More wisdom will be coming our way next year to highlight the best of other seasons. For now, I keep my copy close, tossing it in my bag so I might look up a plant or tree when I am out on a walk. While I will be excited to identify a mushroom or two, I will leave any culinary experimentation up to Laura. Actually, with all of the recent rain, Laura has been rolling in an encyclopedic array of mushrooms, even one the size of a bowling ball. I follow her on Instagram and subscribe to her newsletter, which I highly recommend. She shares the most beautiful photos, poetry and wisdom as well as opportunities to join her on a trail or at an event.
If you’d like a copy of The Guide for yourself or as a gift for someone who needs to get out more or wants to get more out of getting out, stop in to Main Street Farm in Livingston Manor. I saw a few copies on a shelf there last week. (FYI: Her website says the book is sold out... so it might be hard to get a copy if you don’t hurry to MSF.)
Enjoy the book. Enjoy nature.
xoxo, farm girl