The Wildest Place on Earth: Italian Gardens and the Invention of Wilderness

John Hanson Mitchell, Author Counterpoint LLC $24 (240p) ISBN 978-1-58243-046-1
Mitchell (Ceremonial Time) opens this lush, labyrinthine book with his long-ago encounter, in the American desert, with ""a wildman,"" ""who claimed you could live forever in the wilderness with two or three milk goats and a working knowledge of edible plants."" The younger Mitchell embraced this philosophy, but, ultimately, it was in ""the most thoroughly transformed landscape of all, the hedged terraces, all es, pathways, pools, fountains, and hidden rooms of what was left of the old Renaissance gardens of Italy"" that he ""rediscovered that old sense of goatly wildness."" From the great mazes of ancient Egypt to the 12th-century hedge maze where Henry II's wife murdered his mistress, to the construction of his own backyard maze and tea house, Mitchell explores the wilderness of the human imagination and ""the undiscovered country of the nearby."" Three of what Thoreau would have called ""clews"" to Mitchell's project keep cropping up: first, Thoreau's idea of ""Contact,"" or oneness with nature; second, the contrast between conceptions of true wilderness ""as a separate place"" with ""a certain aura of power or ability to bestow information or insight"" and the construction of the garden; and finally, the beloved demigod Pan, who physically embodies both the untamed forests and deserts (his goat half) and sculpted gardens (his human half). Part travelogue, part garden history in the tradition of Edith Wharton's Italian Villas and Their Gardens, this poetic little book traces the transportation of humankind to the wilderness and the transformation of the wild into rich human habitat. (Apr. 1)
Reviewed on: 04/01/2001
Release date: 04/01/2001
Paperback - 194 pages - 978-1-58243-215-1
Paperback - 216 pages - 978-1-61168-720-0
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