Cover image for Yearning for the land : a search for the importance of place
Yearning for the land : a search for the importance of place
Simpson, John W. (John Warfield)
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Pantheon Books, [2002]

Physical Description:
291 pages : maps ; 22 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
GF556.E27 S56 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



What does landscape mean to us? How does it shape our sense of "rootedness" to place and connection to community? Can that sense and that connection enrich us in the same manner as having knowledge of our familial lineage? Landscape historian John Warfield Simpson sets out to answer these questions by following the journey of the great conservationist John Muir from his homeland along the North Sea coast in East Lothian County, Scotland, to his family's adopted home in the fields and forests of Marquette County, Wisconsin. Along the way he discovers much about himself; and we, in turn, can learn much about ourselves. In 1849 the Muirs immigrated from East Lothian to the wilds of central Wisconsin in search of religious and economic opportunity. What concept of land did they and millions of others from the Old World leave behind, and what did they find in their New World homes? Simpson physically retraces the Muirs' journey, as he delves into the meaning and importance of place. He speaks with estate owners and tenant farmers in Scotland who have centuries-long ties to the land they own or work; to Wisconsin farmers for whom one hundred years measures a profound connection to place; and to Native Americans working to reclaim the land they lost to white pioneers like the Muirs and to the author's own Scottish ancestors. Among all of these people Simpson discovers a powerful link between personal and communal history, and a deep connection to the land on which they have been played out. Time and history, landscape and community, are tightly intertwined, Simpson learns. Roots matter, he discovers, in his adopted home of Cockburnspath, Berwickshire, Scotland.

Author Notes

John Warfield Simpson is a professor of Landscape Architecture and Natural Resources at Ohio State University, he lives in Upper Arlington, Ohio.

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

John Muir's childhood immigration to the U.S. and coming of age on his father's Wisconsin farm provide a spare glue for Simpson's investigation of what land means to us now. Drawn by a sense that he is missing a critical link to where he lives, a suburb in Ohio, Simpson (Visions of Paradise: Glimpses of Our Landscape's Legacy) reverses Muir's journey, visiting first the marsh that gave the 19th-century conservationist much of his early pleasure and then Muir's homeland in Scotland. Along the way he visits the people who currently live on the land that was the Muir farm, members of the displaced Ho-Chunk tribe and Scottish tenants and landlords whose lives echo the land use that shaped their culture. In Scotland, Simpson finds his sense of home, an affinity to the land and culture that he soon fears he cannot engender in his own Ohio. Throughout, Muir acts as a touchstone for Simpson, who reflects on trails of Muir's thought from time to time and finds avid lovers of Muir's legacy at each landing. Readers will find more of Simpson here than Muir, and Simpson's narrative is best when he relates history or allows the many intriguing people he interviews to tell their own story. Unfortunately, it all too often suffers when he races along, dispensing with a clear sense of chronology, building small stacks of questions he doesn't really answer and failing to coherently integrate the ideas from interviews with his own stream of thought. All the same, underneath this tangled surface, Simpson does articulate some keen insights into the tenuous ties we have to the places we live and the pleasure of giving in to a sense of belonging. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Simpson (Visions of Paradise) explores people's relationship with the landscape, defined in terms of all the physical and cultural events that have shaped it throughout history, including myths and folklore. He accomplishes this by visiting and talking to residents in two places where conservationist John Muir lived as a boy-his birthplace in Scotland and Marquette County, WI. Although glimpses of Muir's boyhood are provided, of greater interest are Simpson's interviews with fourth-generation farmers, Ho-Chunk Indians, a Scottish duke and earl, and just plain folks who talk about today's transient lifestyle and lack of rootedness and community. Simpson ultimately answers a question about his own yearning for a particular landscape when upon returning to America he discovers that he has left his heart in Scotland in the very village where an ancestor was christened. Although he makes good points, the writing is tedious at times. Gretel Erhlich explores a similar theme with more artistry and finesse in This Cold Heaven. For large public libraries or libraries with comprehensive collections on human ecology.-Maureen J. Delaney-Lehman, Lake Superior State Univ. Lib., Sault Ste. Marie, MI (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.