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Mountains of Light

by Mark Liebenow

Mountains of Light is available at

The environment may surround us, but when that environment is a natural wonder like Yosemite National Park, it also reaches what's inside us. For Mark Liebenow, Yosemite did just that, and did so when he needed it most. In Mountains of Light, winner of the River Teeth Literary Nonfiction Prize, Liebenow takes us deep into the heart of the wilderness, introducing us to its grand and subtle marvels - and to the observations, reflections, and insights its scenery evokes. Acting as our guide, Liebenow calls on the spirit and legacy of naturalist John Muir to rediscover nature and recover his own exuberance for life. Whether celebrating the giant sequoias, massive granite mountains, and wild, untamed rivers, or losing himself on an unmarked trail, Liebenow is always accompanied by thoughts of his wife of eighteen years, whose recent and sudden death tempers and informs his journey.

Interwoven with his experiences are the stories of the Native Americans who lived in the valley for thousands of years and of the early settlers who followed. Melding documentary with introspection, environmental reportage with a search for meaning, Liebenow's work draws on the lore of geology, botany, biology, and history to show how each aspect of the environment is connected to the rest.

Liebenow says of his book: "We feel estranged from nature. We love to be outside yet feel afraid when left alone in the forest. Our children play video games instead of going outdoors. I explore nature’s spirituality by camping in Yosemite through the seasons and learn how to pay attention. I weave in geology, botany, the stories of Native Americans and pioneers who once lived there, and the words of John Muir. Each year four million visitors come to Yosemite, and I describe my hikes so that they can walk those trails and have their own experiences. I also write about the rock climbers I camped with, their daring, and how they challenged me to take my own risks and experience life directly. I want readers, wherever they are, to go outside after reading my book and see nature as they’ve never seen it before."

Mark Liebenow grew up in Wisconsin near John Muir’s boyhood home reading about Muir, Aldo Leopold, and Sigurd Olson. When he moved to California, he went to Yosemite and discovered the transcendence of Nature that Muir wrote about. Liebenow now lives in Illinois where he helps friends preserve heirloom seeds on their organic farm. He writes about nature, poetry, recovery from grief, and the theology of fools.

Liebenow is the author of four books. His essays, poems, and literary criticism have been published in journals like The Colorado Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Fifth Wednesday Journal, Spoon River Poetry Review, Chautauqua Literary Journal, Disquieting Muses Quarterly, Clackamas Literary Review, and Crab Orchard Review.

His poems have been set to music by composers Stephen Heinemann, an eight-minute work for chorus and soprano saxophone, Robert Levy, a jazz song, and piano works by David Henkelmann and John Arrowood, Jr.

He has won the Chautauqua Nonfiction Prize, the River Teeth Literary Nonfiction Prize, the Sipple Poetry Prize, received honorable mentions for the Editor’s Prize at The Spoon River Poetry Review and the Academy of American Poets Prize, and been nominated for an Illinois Arts Council Award and the Pushcart Prize.

Beside Yosemite, he has hiked in such places as the Beartooth Mountains in Montana, Cape Breton, and the Highlands of Scotland, canoed through the Boundary Waters of Minnesota and Canada, and biked across Wisconsin. He speaks before groups and gives workshops on a variety of topics.

Liebenow studied creative writing in the graduate school at Bradley University and English at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, holds M.Div. and M.A. degrees, and is married to Marcia Henry Liebenow, violinist.