From Publishers Weekly
When Mitchell (Walking Towards Walden; Ceremonial Time) challenges such a seemingly fundamental notion as the private ownership of land, one almost expects a Marxist rant or New Age screed. Happily, Mitchell neither scolds nor soothes, offering instead anecdote, history, law and keen naturalist observations in making his case. Here, the editor of Sanctuary magazine has created a work as pleasant as a walk through his beloved New England countryside, rambling around the property "legally owned" by a somewhat obscure tribe of Native Americans (documented as far back as the 17th century and through to its subsequent owners). There, land serves?and is served?as a source of the sacred, a bearer of ancestral wisdom and inspiration, an investment in future generations and a present home. Mitchell's travels take in the history of land ownership (which, as he points out, arose on these shores approximately 400 years ago), using revealing character studies of landed gentry, who jealously protect property rights, and of ordinary citizens, who throughout history have fought developers as well as interlopers, such as him, who cross formal property lines to enjoy nature. Such crossing, Mitchell writes, "is the only way to get to know a place?you have to break through boundaries." And so he does, but gently. For if he holds little regard for property lines, he certainly respects the history they encompass, and explores that history with style and grace in his engaging, well-organized book.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From Kirkus Reviews
A Thoreauvian ramble through English common law, American history, the New England landscape, and much else. Mitchell (Walking Towards Walden, 1995), winner of the John Burroughs Essay Award, takes a sidelong look at our tenure on the American land, contrasting communal-property ideas of the continents indigenes with imported ideas of might and rightideas, he writes, that are really fairly new, dating only to the 18th century, before which time one bought the right to live on a particular piece of land, not the land itself. How do you determine where the boundaries lie exactly while you are out walking, and if you happen to cross an imaginary line, one run out and recorded and set on paper and filed in a registry of deeds, what does it matter? he asks while roving in the Yankee woods of Massachusetts. It matters plenty, he answers, to his good-fences neighbors, who jealously guard their domains with shotguns, writs, and pot-bellied pigs. It matters, too, to history; the domain of the Nashobah Indians, on whose historic ground Mitchell and his neighbors now dwell, is contested by four postage stamp-sized Massachusetts townships. Mitchell is quite at home entertaining the airless abstractions of property law, but hes resolutely (and literally) down-to-earth; to know a place, to know the real map of the world, you have to get out on the land and walk, he notes, and walk he does all over the green fields, turning up a solid piece of nature writing in the bargain. Elsewhere he examines the history of public- and private-domain property rights, tracing them through Anglo-Norman custom into the present and considers the question whether we have the moral right to destroy habitat in order to make room for yet another boxlike development for 60 or 70 or 100 well-heeled families. A thoughtful, beautifully written addition to environmental and regional literature. -- Copyright ©1998, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.