Author Interviews
7:00 am
Sun February 9, 2014

Seed Librarians, Stone Carvers And Sheepherders Along The Hudson

Originally published on Sun February 9, 2014 10:44 am

Travel can take on many modes: Air, bus, boat, car — and how about going a few hundred miles by bicycle?

One day in the spring of 2012, English designer and photographer Nick Hand set off on his bicycle from Brooklyn, New York, and traveled north up the Hudson River, collecting the stories of local artisans he happened to meet along the way.

Hand put all those stories together in a new book called Conversations on the Hudson, and he tells NPR's Rachel Martin that he found inspiration in a similar journey he'd already taken around the British coastline.


Interview Highlights

On meeting stone carver Ted Ludwiczak

I had just cycled through a bit of forestry, I think it was Nyack State Park, and the first thing that you see are lots of stone carved faces looking out at you, which is, I guess, quite an unusual thing to come across. So I kind of hung around, and Ted just happened to turn up in his battered old red car, and we got to chatting, and he was just a great artisan, and a lovely old boy ... he thinks there's a face in every stone and he's just releasing the face — sounds a bit kind of weird, but it's kind of a beautiful thing to say as well.

On meeting a seed librarian

He had come across this sort of issue of finding seeds that were hardy enough for where he lived, which is quite a harsh climate, so he started collecting hardy local seeds. And he had this idea of putting them into the library system so that people could check out seeds in the spring, and then, come the fall, they would return the seeds much like you would a book — but over the kind of six month growing period.

On where he's going next

I've got plans to have a courier bike built that I can put a little printing press on the back. I'm thinking of cycling to Mainz, in Germany, which is where Gutenberg [lived], who invented printing with movable type. And so I've got this kind of plan to maybe do this journey with a little printing press and print postcards along the way send them back to people on the way.

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Transcript

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Traveling can take on many modes: Air, bus, boat, car. But how about traveling a few thousand miles on a bicycle?

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MARTIN: On this week's travel segment, Wingin' It, we hear from Nick Hand. He's an English designer and photographer who recently set off on his bicycle from Brooklyn, New York and he traveled north up the Hudson River, where he collected stories of local artisans he happened to meet along the way. He's put all those stories together in a new book called "Conversations on the Hudson."

Nick Hand joins us from the BBC studios in Bristol. Welcome to the show.

NICK HAND: Thank you very much.

MARTIN: What inspired you to do this journey?

HAND: I did a similar journey around the coast of Britain a few years ago and I started collecting stories from artisans, people that generally kind of worked with their hands - spinners, wood turners, potters - and I just find them like really inspirational people. And I guess the other thing is when you're cycling sort of long distances on a really heavy bike, those kind of inspirations just kind of keep you going.

And because I cycle on my own, these people became my kind of best friends for the day. And so, I just kind of set out to look after them. And then I came over to New York. My wife was working in New York City so I planned this journey heading north.

MARTIN: So let's talk about some of the characters that you met along the Hudson River. One of them, whose story you tell, is a man named Ted. He's a stone carver. Tell us about him and his work.

HAND: I had just cycled through a bit of forestry, I think it was Nyack State Park, and the first thing that you see are lots of stone carved faces looking out...

(LAUGHTER)

HAND: ...at you. It's just, I guess, quite an unusual thing to come across. So, I kind of hung around, and Ted just happened to turn up in his battered old red car, and we just got chatting.

MARTIN: You recorded some of your conversation with him. Let's listen.

TED LUDWICZAK: Most of them, they have a face and they're hiding. So, I figure maybe I expose the face. I achieved certain amount of success.

HAND: He was just a great artisan. And the little tip you heard, how he thinks there's a sort of face in every stone and he's just releasing the face - sounds a bit kind of weird, but it's kind of a beautiful thing to say as well. Yeah, he said some funny things. Like he said everyone sees a faces that's a bit like theirs. And he asked me to pick out the one that I thought looked like me, so you pick out a good-looking face. And he said, no, no, you look like that one over there and it's kind of a real long face with a big, long nose, which is probably a bit more accurate to be fair.

MARTIN: You met another person - Woody Guthrie's granddaughter. Are you a Woody Guthrie fan?

HAND: I am a big Woody Guthrie fan, yes.

MARTIN: So, it must have been really cool.

HAND: It was really cool, yeah. And I've been to the 100th anniversary of Woody's birth. And there was a concert. And the first person that came on at the concert was Anna Canoni, who is Woody's granddaughter. And she read this just beautiful poem. And when I met her, I asked her if she would read the poem again.

MARTIN: And you recorded that second reading. Let's take a listen to an excerpt of that.

ANNA CANONI: (Reading) I hate a song that makes you think you're not any good. I hate a song that makes you think that you're just born to lose, bound to lose, no good to nobody, no good for nothing, because you're too old or too young, or too fat or too slim, too ugly or too this or too that.

MARTIN: You meet all kinds of people on the road. You also meet a sheep farmer, a maple syrup producer, a boat restorer. But I'd like to ask you about the seed librarian, which is a concept I hadn't really thought of before. Explain what that means.

HAND: Well, he called himself a small town librarian, so a book librarian. And he was always also a very keen gardener. He had come across this sort of issue of finding seeds, which were kind of hardy enough for where he lived, which is quite a harsh climate. So, he started collecting hardy local seeds. And he had this idea of putting them into the library system so people could check out seeds in the spring. And then, come the fall, they would return the seeds much like you would a book - but over the kind of six month growing period. And he developed this and eventually left the library and he set up the Hudson Valley Seed Library.

MARTIN: What do you ride? Do you have a specific bike that you take on these trips?

HAND: Yeah, well, it's an English touring bike. It's made in my home city in Bristol. So, it's handmade. It's a bit like having a suit made for you and it kind of fits you exactly and super comfortable when you're on it. You just feel like that's where you belong.

MARTIN: So, where next for you?

HAND: Well, I've set up a letter press community business in Bristol. And I've got plans to have a courier bike built that I can put a little printing press on the back. I'm thinking of cycling to Mainz in Germany, which is where Gutenberg, who invented printing with movable type. And so I've got this kind of plan to maybe do this journey with a little printing press and print postcards and send them back to people on the way. Sounds a bit crazy but...

MARTIN: Romantic.

HAND: Maybe. Some might say romantic. Some might say crazy.

MARTIN: Arduous.

HAND: OK.

MARTIN: Nick Hand. He spoke to us from the BBC studios in Bristol. Nick, thanks so much for talking with us, and safe travels.

HAND: Bye-bye.

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MARTIN: We would love to hear about some of the more interesting places you have been on a bicycle. You can leave your tales of adventure on our Facebook page.

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MARTIN: You are listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.