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Nature of Saint Johns Book Review

Book Reviews by Ann Jonas, Tradebook Buyer - CSB/SJU Bookstores
this review was published in the St. Cloud Visitor

“The Nature of Saint John’s: A Guide to the Landscape and Spirituality of Saint John’s Abbey Arboretum” edited by Larry Haeg with Jennifer Kutter; Saint John’s University Press; August 2015; 244 pp; $12.95

Visitors have long been attracted to the Saint John’s University campus to see the striking Saint John’s Abbey and University Church. “The Nature of Saint John’s,” a brand new guidebook, will entice guests of Saint John’s to explore the 2,500 acres of forest, prairie, oak savanna and lakes that make up the Saint John’s Abbey Arboretum, an entity that fosters the Benedictine tradition of environmental reverence and land stewardship.

“The Nature of Saint John’s” begins with an introduction by Abbot John Klassen, who connects Saint Benedict’s Rule with the natural world, declaring that both offer us wisdom. The book contains seven chapters plus concluding comments by Thomas Kroll, the current Land Manager of the Arboretum and Director of Saint John’s Outdoor University, the Arboretum’s programming entity that provides outdoor and environmental education. A chronology of Benedictine stewardship is also included.

“Genesis,” the first chapter in “The Nature of Saint John’s,” gives readers a brief background on the formation of the landscape of Saint John’s, including the geological and historical beginnings of the area. A short biography of Father Paul Schwietz, OSB, for whom the book is dedicated, is part of this chapter, as is the relationship between the Abbey Arboretum and “The Saint John’s Bible.” Finally, “Genesis” gives good practical advice to all who plan to walk the trails.

The next six chapters of the book are dedicated to six trails that wind their way through the Arboretum’s acreage. The Prairie-Wetlands, Savanna-Prairie, Chapel, Deep Woods, Old Road and Pine Knob trails are all featured. A map, the length of each trail, the time it will take to hike and an interesting description are given at the beginning of each chapter. Full-color photographs of the vegetation and wildlife that hikers may see on each trail are included. The book also lists some notable facts about each vegetation and wildlife listing and then connects this information with Saint John’s.

Scattered throughout the book are fitting quotations from environmentalists, Benedictine monks, Scripture, and even excerpts from Pope Francis’ new encyclical “Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home,” along with poems and meditations. Also, brief sketches of some of the Benedictines who had a hand in planting, growing, and preserving the environment add interesting details to each chapter.

Readers of “The Nature of Saint John’s” will feel the urge to come out to Saint John’s and explore the trails with the book in hand. The book’s trim size (4 ½” x 7”) allows hikers to take the book with them as they explore the trails; a separate fold-out Saint John’s Abbey Arboretum Trail Map is included in each book.

Larry Haeg and Jennifer Kutter, the editors of “The Nature of Saint John’s,” have done a creditable job of compiling all the material that this book holds and presenting it in a very readable and engaging way. Haeg, a 1967 graduate of Saint John’s Prep and a 1967 graduate of Saint John’s University, is a retired executive vice president of Wells Fargo & Company. He has published several books including “Saint Benedict’s Rule for Fair Play in Sports.” Kutter is a 2003 graduate of the College of Saint Benedict, majoring in chemistry and environmental studies. She is the department coordinator for Saint John’s Outdoor University, the Abbey Aboretum and the CSB/SJU environmental studies department.

nature of saint john's