Picking Up the Flute

Picking Up the Flute sets to music a former professor’s musings on retirement, marriage, literature, and the natural world. From his home in historic Bristol, Vermont to Ireland’s Connemara coast, travel through John Elder’s exquisite topography and relish his explorations of nature, poetry, and geology.

John Elder’s memoir is permeated by music, through his interwoven narrative of learning to play the Irish flute. Along the way Elder also revisits his time teaching at Middlebury College and explores the next phase of retirement, utilizing texts and memories from his past whose meanings echo with a new sound now. Picking Up the Flute is an interactive, multimedia memoir that immerses the reader in Elder’s provocative prose, while offering the ability to listen to his spirited playing on his website.


“Elder is an immensely gifted writer.” —Chris Bohjalian, Boston Globe Magazine

“In prose as lyrical and spirited as the Irish tunes he plays on his flute, John Elder shows that the autumn of life is a time for letting go of nonessentials and taking up the soul’s true work—such outer work as neighborliness, friendship, maple sugaring, house building, and music making; such inner work as practicing gratitude, rejoicing in beauty, and reflecting on a lifetime of reading and teaching. Above all, he has given us an eloquent story of a marriage, the nearly half-century-long communion of two vivid individuals who constantly renew themselves, and one another, through love.”
— Scott Russell Sanders, author of Divine Animal and Dancing in Dreamtime


From 1973 to 2010 Elder taught at Middlebury College, where he was the Stewart Professor of English and Environmental Studies and was known for his wonderful teaching and for his critical work on nature writing. He is the author most recently of Reading the Mountains of Home and has edited an encyclopedia, American Nature Writers, and (with Robert Finch) The Norton Anthology of Nature Writing. He lives with his family in Bristol, Vermont.



6 x 9; Paperback Original; 240 pages; $19.95
eBook to come; Audiobook to come
Pub date: May 6, 2016
ISBN: 978-0-9961357-2-6
Available wherever books are sold.
Author available for readings throughout New England.
Distributed by Midpoint Trade Books, Ingram’s, Baker & Taylor.