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An American Provence

An American Provence

Thomas P. Huber
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 188
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  • Book Info
    An American Provence
    Book Description:

    "I have talked about luscious wines and succulent fruit and exquisite dinners. But there may be no more evocative experience of the two valleys than the smell of new-mown hay in the fields at dusk. If a person were to close their eyes, they could not tell if they were in Provence or the North Fork Valley. That sweet, earthy odor is part of the beauty of these places." -From An American Provence In this poetic personal narrative, Thomas P. Huber reflects on two seemingly unrelated places-the North Fork Valley in western Colorado and the Coulon River Valley in Provence, France-and finds a shared landscape and sense of place. What began as a simple comparison of two like places in distant locations turned into a more complex, interesting, and personal task. Much is similar-the light, the valleys, the climate, the agriculture. And much is less so-the history, the geology, the physical makeup of villages. Using a geographer's eye and passion for the land and people, Huber examines the regions' similarities and differences to explore the common emotional impact of each region. Part intimate travelogue and part case study of geography in the real world, An American Provence illuminates the importance sense of place plays in who we are.

    eISBN: 978-1-60732-151-4
    Subjects: General Science, Geography, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
    (pp. 1-6)

    When I went off after high school to get a college degree, it was pretty clear that my father wanted me to be a professional of some sort—a medical doctor would have been best, but a dentist (like my dad) or even an engineer would have been acceptable as long as I could make a good living and people would respect the profession I had chosen. I liked to solve problems and was pretty good at math, so I signed up as an engineering major my first semester at school. The school’s curriculum was formulaic, to say the least....

  5. 1. PLACES
    (pp. 7-32)

    Because I am a geographer, I cannot stop looking at, thinking about, or visiting places. Perhaps some kind of genetic disorder compels me to go to places, to study places, to compare places. Other geographers appear to share my malady, and they tend to use the word place with a whole collection of meanings non-geographers might not appreciate. We geographers see place as the interaction of all of a location’s physical characteristics, including soils, vegetation, climate, and geology—much like an ecosystem except broader and of a much larger scale. We also think about place as the nexus of human...

  6. 2. THE LAND
    (pp. 33-54)

    What struck me so powerfully that morning in Hotchkiss and sent my mind flying to Provence was the way the land looked and how that view affected my memories and geographic instincts. There was the long east-west valley below me, with its season-affected river; there was the sere natural landscape that became lush and prolific only if water was added; and who could miss the elongated mountains running parallel to the valley, which, in turn, paralleled the river in its flow westward? Then there was the undefined, visceral feel of the place that transcends words but is vividly palpable nonetheless....

  7. 3. VILLAGES
    (pp. 55-88)

    The physical geography of place is the indisputable foundation upon which I have constructed the common vision of two like landscapes. But the human concentrations in the small towns and villages add a critical aspect to the two regions that is essential to our understanding and appreciation of their similarities and differences. The small towns of the North Fork are understandably dissimilar in many ways, although these differences are like a set of études on a single theme as opposed to individual works. The same can be said of the villages of the Coulon. Each French village is unique in...

  8. 4. WINE
    (pp. 89-110)

    Some people actually read those large, detailed tomes written about wine. These several-hundred-page volumes usually try to cover all major wines from around the world and look at every significant wine-producing region. Thousands of places need to be discussed, some in great detail and others only in passing, as wine is one of the most widespread and complex commodities produced globally. I admit, I am a wine nerd who reads these books—many of which are very well written, some even funny, and usually intensely informative. But never have I seen more than a quarter of a page on the...

  9. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  10. 5. FOOD
    (pp. 111-130)

    The sharing of a meal with friends or family is one of the most universal joys nearly all cultures possess. Something about a communal dinner, lunch, or even breakfast often brings out the best in conversation, interesting discussion, laughter, and thought. This might be because food is such an intimate thing—we humans literally take it into our bodies as we take in few other things. Numbered among these rare items are water, air, and the occasional glass of wine. Maybe this is why the communal meals we have had in both the North Fork Valley and the Coulon are...

    (pp. 131-140)

    Much of this book looks at the many similarities that exist between the two valleys—nearly the same climate, nearly the same landscape, nearly the same cultural, social, and economic commitment to a place. But each of these places, and really every place on earth, has its own idiosyncratic qualities. I see these qualities as “signatures,” those things that are essentially unique to a person or a place. And like a person’s signature, some are easy to read and others are nearly incomprehensible. Because the two places have many signatures, I have chosen one from each of the valleys—they...

  12. 7. HIKING
    (pp. 141-156)

    I have just been looking at a hiking map for the Grand Mesa—the big, flat-topped, volcanic mountain that defines the northern horizon of the North Fork Valley. The map was produced by one of the world’s great geographic organizations, and I have nothing but respect for all of their publications. But what struck me immediately after having spent a month living and hiking in Provence is the paternalistic tone the map’s information section takes. The map’s extensive legend section includes the “10 Essentials” for being prepared. Such things as bringing food, water, a map and compass, sunglasses, and matches...

    (pp. 157-166)

    Bastille Day, that celebration of “Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité.” Our special French July 14 dawned somewhat cooler and fresher than the hot, sultry days before. It was almost invigorating—well, as invigorating as the low nineties in intense sunshine can be. Up to this point we had only done a few hikes in the Provençal countryside, and hiking is one of our favorite ways to get exercise and to really see the landscapes that are generally hidden from even the smallest roads. The inn where we were staying is only about a kilometer from the scarp that defines the southern side...

    (pp. 167-178)

    When a book such as this is written, the big picture of a place usually stands out and is the dominant theme. That is invariably appropriate. But sometimes this larger view begs for some little-picture scenarios that give the text a more human inclination. It is not uncommon for these small, idiosyncratic miscellanea to help bring into sharper focus the intricacies of landscape. What follows is a collection of these small pictures that are not necessarily directly related to each other but that, taken together, give the book a fuller texture of the two valleys. I have talked about luscious...

    (pp. 179-186)

    I repeat Proust’s quote because it was an appropriate start to the book, but it is an even more suitable closing. The basic characteristics of landscapes have been outlined innumerable times and in various ways by geographers, anthropologists, and landscape architects. But basically, a landscape has three core elements, including the foundation—the geomorphology and geology of the earth; the biota (mostly vegetation) supported by that foundation; and the human influences, impacts, and alterations of these two physical factors. This is pretty prosaic stuff. The poetry of landscape evolves through the myriad ways we humans sense it—metaphorically, by having...

    (pp. 187-188)