"Don Mitchell's Flying Blind does for rural New England what Wendell Berry's essays do for Kentucky and Norman Maclean's A River Runs Through It does for the American West. On one level, Flying Blind tells the engaging and often hilarious story of a man's determination to make his upcountry Vermont farm a welcoming home for an endangered and much-maligned species of 'flying rat.' It's also the story of how place, the past, family, and meaningful work can still form character at a time when much of America is increasingly alienated from nature, history, and community. Beautifully written, relentlessly honest, and unfailingly entertaining, Flying Blind is the book Don Mitchell was born to write."
—Howard Frank Mosher, author of The Great Northern Express, Walking to Gatlinburg, and On Kingdom Mountain
When a biologist with the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department approaches Middlebury writing professor and shepherd Don Mitchell about tracking endangered Indiana bats on his 150-acre farm in Vermont’s picturesque Champlain Valley, Mitchell’s relationship with bats—and with government—can be characterized as distrustful, at best.
But the flying rats, as Mitchell initially thinks of them, launch him on a series of “improvements” to his land that will provide a more welcoming habitat for the bats—and a modest tax break for himself and his family. Whether persuading his neighbors to join him in pulling invasive garlic mustard out of the ground by hand (marketed to them as an opportunity for “silent meditation”), navigating the tacit ground rules of buying an ATV off Craigslist, or leaving just enough honeysuckle to give government inspectors "something to find," Mitchell’s tale is as profound as it is funny—a journey that changes Mitchell’s relationship with bats, the land, and, ultimately, his understanding of his own past.
The interwoven narratives of contemplations on nature and life in Flying Blind are in the vein of Terry Tempest Williams’s Refuge and Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. “Befriending bats had been a means to figure out, against all odds, where in the world I actually was. And exactly who I was,” Mitchell writes. “And to participate—thankfully, joyfully—in the wild party that keeps going on around us.”
Ruminating on the nature of authority, the purview of the state, and the value of inhabiting one’s niche, Mitchell reveals much about our inner and outer landscape in this perfectly paced and skilled story of place.
About the Author
Don Mitchell is a novelist, essayist, and sometime screenwriter whose most recent books are The Nature Notebooks (a novel) and a guidebook to Vermont in the Fodor's/Compass American series. He's also the architect and builder of over a dozen low-cost, energy-efficient structures on Treleven Farm, and a shepherd with thirty-five years' experience managing a flock of sheep there. One of his current interests is forest management with the goal of enhancing habitat for endangered bats.
From 1984 to 2009 Don taught courses at Middlebury College, primarily in creative writing -- especially narrative fiction and writing for film ...