Reveling: Picture book does us proud

That National Geographic's latest offering is a gorgeous photographic amble through our neck of the woods is no surprise. In current parlance, it's what they do.

But even so, from its first 10 double pages of lush landscapes through chapters surveying the history (and wars) of Virginia, Maryland, and Mason-Dixon Pennyslvania, Journey through Hallowed Ground is enough to make a native's heart swell with pride.

Author Andrew Cockburn, a native of Ireland but now happily living in the shadow of the Blue Ridge, teams up with photographer Kenneth Garrett to tour the ridges and valleys from Monticello to Gettysburg, from the early 18th century to the present.

The book's motto seems to be preserve, preserve, preserve. Preserve the land, preserve history, and preserve legacy. The cover depicts the floating heads of influential historical figures– an art form usually reserved for advertisements of epic films. In the foreword, Geraldine Brooks presents readers with her passion for living history– and a narrative of her journey from globe-trotting Wall Street Journal correspondent to homemaking resident of the tiny northern Virginia burg of Waterford.

One of the opening photos features rows of vines at a winery in Middleburg that seem to stretch on forever, and the family's tractor dwarfed in comparison. Another shows Jefferson's Rock in Harper's Ferry, West Virginia, towering over the top of a church. The high-resolution photos are beautiful, but they seem to suggest the same belief– land is supreme, and next to it, man is nothing.

The book is organized in time-machine format, meaning that turning the pages transports a reader from pre-Revolutionary war times to today, with each chapter titled in an old-timey quill-and-ink font.
The first chapter focuses on Native Americans in illustrations and photographs that glorify their reverence for nature. The colonial era is portrayed as a great loss of land and Native American life. One page focuses on the work of Karenne Wood, poet and member of the Tribal Council of the Monacan Indian Nation. In one of her poems on the "discovery" of the Americas, she argues, "Nothing was discovered/Everything was already loved."

The text moves through the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, providing in true coffee-table fashion a lot to look at but perhaps less to read. While the photography is National Geographic-breathtaking, the history is all well known.

The book attempts to relate the past with the present, but even the present shows an obsession with the past. Chapter five, "The Living Landscape," glorifies current lifestyles that mirror history. Several features highlight wineries and ham shops. A full-page photograph shows a Future Farmer of America brushing a pig.
Few of the modern photographs include people, and the ones that do are mostly a collection of reenactments and tourists engaging in historical traditions for a laugh. In a caption for landowners who allow tourists to fox-hunt on their property, a tinge of honesty is followed by the book's mantra: "In return, owners receive a tax break. Moreover, the land is preserved."

This book is a fine addition to the coffee table for glimpses of beautiful countryside that gets less play in these parts than Albemarle– including landscapes in The Plains and Rappahannock County. Any history buff will revel in the excess of old-world maps and photographs of original artifacts.

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1 comment

I purchased this book and was glad I did. Absolutely beautiful photos.