Goal is to reflect Hudson Highlands Land Trust mission

By Alison Rooney

A 25th birthday is a pretty big deal for a nonprofit organization, and the Hudson Highlands Land Trust (HHLT) has been celebrating theirs in style, with fanfare: a fireworks-filled gala and activities that reflect the organization’s mission, such as the “25 Treasures of the Highlands” treasure hunt that has sent outdoor adventurers scrambling up and down the nearby trails in search of geocaches artfully placed to spotlight the region’s natural resources, history and beauty.

A photo of Jay Pearsall swinging over Lake Valhalla serves as the cover of the new Hudson Highlands Land Trust book (photo by Christine Ashburn)
A photo of Jay Pearsall swinging over Lake Valhalla serves as the cover of the new Hudson Highlands Land Trust book (photo by Christine Ashburn)

When HHTL Director of Outreach and Development MJ Martin considered what might still be missing from the anniversary equation, she realized that these were ephemeral, transitory events.

“We decided that yes, we needed a gala but that we also needed something tangible and permanent to set that milestone on the ground — a ‘We’re here and this is what it is all about’ commemoration,” she explained. The HHLT’s new book, Connecting: Celebrating the People and Places of the Hudson Valley, will be officially launched at a party at the HHLT offices at Winter Hill on Thursday, Nov. 20; the public is cordially invited.

The theme of the book from the start was, quite simply, the people and places of the Hudson Highlands. “They can’t be separated,” Martin explained. “It’s the people that protect the land, and the landscapes and views nurture the people and make the communities within them the rich places that they are.”

Although the book underwent the usual conceptual permutations from initial idea to final product, tied into it from the beginning, Martin said, is that all of the photography for the volume would be done by Philipstown photographer Christine Ashburn (see accompanying story). “We always conceived of Christine doing the photography. I have been blown away by the quality of how she captures her subjects, particularly the way she can marry environment and subject. Her eye is so honed and sensitive to the subject matter.”

In what became a yearlong commission, Ashburn headed out, camera in hand, all over the highlands, in every season and type of weather condition, in many instances seeing places she hadn’t previously been aware of, at times stretching herself physically with activities like hiking to the top of Washburn Trail, documenting ice fishing at Fahnestock and even bracing herself against part of a small plane, taking aerial shots from the sky.

Father and son crabbers Max and West Watman
 (Photo by Christine Ashburn)
Father and son crabbers Max and West Watman
 (Photo by Christine Ashburn)

She was canoed around Constitution Marsh, got up at 4 a.m. to photograph Mine Dock Park, visited the Cornish estate and had many other adventures, one highlight of which was getting permission from the caretaker of Osborn Castle to shoot there on Halloween in 2013; waiting for the fog to lift, she managed to take some wonderfully atmospheric photos of the interior.

“It was a license to go and explore, and I’m so grateful to have had the experience to further explore the Hudson Valley and its people,” Ashburn said.

The format was arrived at by a committee made up of a number of HHLT board members expert in publishing, Nancy Berner, Laura Hromadka and Ru Rauch, all of whom Martin praised: “They added a tremendous amount of experience and wisdom.” They decided to divide the volume into separate sections, each focused upon a different aspect of human and natural life in the highlands. “Once we got our thematic points, ideas for subjects flowered from them. We compiled a list of hundreds of potential subjects,” Martin said.

In making the determination of what to pursue, Martin said much consideration was given. “Things we thought of initially in some cases were so iconic that they didn’t make the cut, because we tried to stay away from the cliché. We wanted to highlight the quirky character of the highlands as much as anything else; for instance it was important to us to have an image of the cows grazing in Sandy Saunders’ field during [the outdoor art installation] Collaborative Concepts.”

cover shot

Anchoring Ashburn’s photos are six essays, contributed by local writers with a particular affinity for each topic discussed. The essayists and their subjects, with biographical notes taken from the book, are as follows:

Our Past (History): Dr. Col. James M. Johnson, U.S. Army, retired, is the Dr. Frank T. Bumpus Chair in Hudson River Valley History, the executive director of the Hudson River Valley Institute at Marist College and the military historian of the Hudson River Valley National Heritage Area. He has taught history for 29 years at West Point and Marist College. He is the author of Militiamen, Rangers, and Redcoats, co-compiler of America’s First River, and co-editor of Key to the Northern Country: The Hudson River Valley in the American Revolution.

Our Bounty (Food and Agriculture): Jocelyn Apicello co-owns Longhaul Farm, an organic micro-farm, in Garrison with her husband, Jason Angell. Apicello is also a public health professional, teaching at several colleges as well as teaching in state prisons. She is committed to promoting healthy living and sustainability through her farming, cooking, teaching and life practices. Angell works to build stronger local economies as executive director of the Peekskill Business Improvement District and teaches American government at Bronx Community College. He is committed to being a part of the movement to build a more just, sustainable society.

Our Renewal (Recreation): Gwendolyn Bounds is author of Little Chapel on the River, a nonfiction book set in the Hudson Valley, and a multimedia journalist whose career includes print and video work for The Wall Street Journal, ABC News, CNBC and The New York Times. She volunteers on the board of advisors for the nonprofit Constitution Marsh Audubon Center and Sanctuary.

Our Spirit (The Arts): Irene O’Garden’s words have found their way to the off-Broadway stage (Women on Fire), into hardcover (Fat Girl), into prizewinning children’s books and into many literary journals and anthologies. She won a 2012 Pushcart Prize for her essay “Glad To Be Human” (available in e-form).

Our Future (Education and Sustainability): Andrew Revkin is the senior fellow for environmental understanding at Pace University and has been writing about environmental sustainability for more than 30 years, mainly for The New York Times. He has written acclaimed books on global warming, the changing Arctic and the Amazon rain forest and is also a performing songwriter. Lisa Mechaley, the education director of the Hudson Highlands Nature Museum, has been a science teacher and environmental educator for 30 years. She has worked for many environmental organizations in the Hudson Valley, including the Hudson Highlands Land Trust and Teatown Lake Reservation, and is on the board of the Constitution Marsh Audubon Center and Sanctuary.

Photo of Mine Dock Park by Christine Ashburn
Photo of Mine Dock Park by Christine Ashburn

The photographs were selected after an initial trimming by photo editor Alice Rose George. Joe Dizney did the graphic design. Contributor Irene O’Garden was very pleased to be asked to participate: “Over the last 30 years we’ve seen a vigorous, accelerating flowering of the arts in our area, which I like to call the Highlands Renaissance. When asked to contribute an essay, I jumped at the chance to write about it. Our cultural life is but one of the many gifts celebrated in these stunning pages. I’m proud to be a nugget in this treasure of a book.”

More than just a pictorial and editorial reflection of the region, the goal of the book is to reflect the mission of the Land Trust. Kathy Hamel, HHLT’s membership and public policy coordinator, noted that throughout the book, protected areas are pinpointed, with Martin adding that differentiation is made as to which lands are currently conserved and which ones aren’t, with “no judgment” made. “We hope that it will further inspire people to value the importance of land conservation,” Hamel said. “The essays are particularly good at showing the reasons why you’re here and why you’ve stayed … People will recognize themselves in it.”

“We hope that there’s a connection for each person, through the photos or the stories,” concluded Martin.

Connecting: Celebrating the People and Places of the Hudson Highlands is available now for pre-order, at a cost of $85; all proceeds go to support the HHLT’s mission. The Nov. 20 book launch party will take place from 6 to 8 p.m. at the HHLT’s offices at Winter Hill, 20 Nazareth Way, in Garrison. On hand will be Ashburn and several of the essayists as well as HHLT staff. After the launch, the book will be available for sale at the HHLT as well as at Clearwater Gifts at Jones Farm in Cornwall. For more information, visit hhlt.org or call 845-424-3358.

Behind The Story

Type: News

News: Based on facts, either observed and verified directly by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Rooney has been writing for The Current since its founding in 2010. A playwright, she has lived in Cold Spring since 1999. She is a graduate of Binghamton University, where she majored in history. Location: Cold Spring. Languages: English. Area of Expertise: Arts