John Hanson Mitchell
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Author John Hanson Mitchell's subject matter ranges from natural and human history, to travel, memoir, biography, and gardening. No matter what the subject, he has become best known for his incisive characterizations, his evocations of time and place, and his unique lyrical style.

The Scratch Flat Chronicles

“Scratch Flat is and was the world”
-New York Times Book Review

Mitchell is the "discoverer", as he says, of a country within a country, a single square mile of land in eastern Massachusetts that was known as Scratch Flat in the nineteenth century. Starting with the now classic cult account, Ceremonial Time  (1984), Mitchell has written five books which use the same tract of land in one way or another to address the larger issue of what it means to be living on earth in our time.  This singular patch of land, with its deep historical shadows, its farms, and its resident wildlife has been used for twenty years as the metaphorical hunting grounds for Mitchell's explorations. Onto the anomalous, changing landscape of Scratch Flat,  Mitchell has thrown virtually all his creative efforts to explore the themes which have obsessed him all his life - time, place, and the endurance of the natural world.  He is, in the style of his hero and mentor, Henry Thoreau, a traveler in his own land; he never gets far beyond his square mile, and yet, according to the New York Time's Book Review, his work has provided  a "comprehensive view of America, past, present - and future".

Click here to see the five books in the Scratch Flat Chronicles.

The Last of the Bird People


Newest Work:
An Eden of Sorts: The Natural History of My Feral Garden

An Eden of Sorts:  The Natural History of My Feral Garden, is the latest in the series known as The Scratch Flat Chronicles.  It is the story of the transformation of a sterile acre and a half of pine forest into a florid garden. 

Thirty years ago Mitchell made a casual survey of the living things on a tract of land that consisted primarily of white pine and no more than five other species of higher plants and no nesting birds.  Over the next three decades he replanted the land in a series of garden rooms based on the designs of his hero, the 19th century garden designer Andrew Jackson Downing who was a contemporary of his other hero in these matters, Henry Thoreau.

The great irony of the story told in this book is the that by cutting down the forest and replacing it with a human construct  --- in this case a house and garden --- he actually increased the bio-diversity of the area.  In spite of the fact that the original plot consisted of native plants, the land was essentially a desert-like environment, with very few species. Once the garden was completed, Mitchell carried out another survey.  This time, he came up with the very conservative estimate of over 2,000 species of plants and animals.

An Eden of Sorts explains how and why this came to pass.

In the end, what happened in this garden could serve as a model for a new system of private wildlife sanctuaries. In contrast to undeveloped open space, suburban lands are hardly endangered.  But if designed properly, they could, as with Mitchell’s experiment, actually increase the biodiversity of developed land.

But this is not solely an ecological document.  It is also the story of the people who were associated with this garden over the years, including three generations of children who explored the various secret garden rooms of the land, not to mention the company of former wives and husbands, in-laws and ex in-laws, uncles, aunts, grandparents, visiting dignitaries, dogs, cats, and the resident wildlife who also shared the year by year adventures in this  garden. 

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