A Summer Read: To the Woods
(click on photo to enlarge)
This week I read a these books that I found enjoyable, informative and entertaining.
While in Ottawa I purchased a copy of Bill Bryson's "A Walk in the Woods", after I was reminded of it by AC my blogger friend
who I visited in Ottawa. I had been considering reading it ever since my brother and his wife hiked the Appalachian Trail's entire length last year. It is an account of the author and a friend's hiking of the Trail. If follows their planning, executing, abandoning the hike only to return to finish it and then abandon it again just before the end. For those considering hiking the Trail it is a cautionary tale. It is a very challenging hike both for it's length and the physical demands of much of it. The book is more than just an account of the trek. There are many hints on how to prepare and execute the trip interspersed and some environmental information on the health of the wilderness and the government shortfalls in protecting National Parks, particularly the Appalachian Trail. Also, there are many funny episodes in it with the interaction of the two men and their encounters with people and conditions along the way.
After following my brother's adventure
, I think the book fails to mention a couple of experiences along the trail that I think are memorable long after the memory of the aches and pains of the trail have been forgotten. Certainly this was the case for my brother and his wife. These two men seem to see very few memorable animals along the way. They worry about bears but actually never see any. They also see no snakes, particularly the poisonous ones. They also make no mention of the feral ponies living in an alpine pasture, which are very friendly to hikers. Surely, the fauna along the trail would be worthy of writing about. They must have seen more than the recount.
Bryson makes no mention of the " trail angels" along the trail. These are people who live near the trail that go out of their way to be helpful to hikers. They offer shelter, transportation into town, encouragement and often food. On more than one occasion, my brother came upon a case of beer left on the trail, often a good distance from an access point. There were church groups and individuals who regularly fed hikers as they passed by. My brother and his wife found this generosity of people and genuine friendship the most memorable aspect of the trek. They felt they had found the "real America" in this time of fear, suspicion and hostility toward "others". More about these two aspects of hiking the trail, the fauna and the trail angel experience would have added a great deal to this otherwise lively account.
The second book I read this week is a young person's book. For the first time one of my grandchildren recommended a book to me. How could one not respond by reading it. My 12 year old grandson who enjoys reading handed a book to me when I stopped at his home on my way back to River Valley. I should mention he also invited me to stay for dinner, which he prepared, with a little help from his grandmother. I was a little taken aback when Travis handed me "My Side of the Mountain" by Jean Craighead George, saying, "I thought you might enjoy this book." How did he know? Will this book reveal to me what he knew and thought about me. Being offered a good read for a shared experience is for me a generous and thoughtful gift so I brought his book home and read it.
This a child's book written for a thoughtful curious older child. It is the story of a boy, Sam Gribley, who runs away from home in New York City to live in the Catskill Mountains in a self sufficient "wild" fashion. (What child has not thought of running away from home.) He had been told stories about his father's more rural upbringing from whom he learned quite a lot on finding food and shelter in the woods. He also read a great deal about it. With his parents reluctant permission he set off with little more that a change of clothes, $40, a flint and steel, a pocket knife, a ball of twine and an axe. He went in a quest to go and live on the land his grandfather homesteaded which was now abandoned and at a remote area of the mountain near Derby.
The story is basically about how he solved all the problems of food, shelter and clothing. He has considerable knowledge of edible plants and animals, which he manages to find, collect, dry and store. He is a great observer of animals and befriends a few that approach his habitation, a hollowed out large and ancient hemlock tree. He captures a young falcon, raises it and teaches it to hunt for him, mainly rabbits. He fishes, snares and traps small animals and even gets deer when he see hunters shooting them and then not finding them where they fall. From the skins he makes himself clothes. The book is a source of a great deal of information on edible plants and animals. He came to the woods with this knowledge and learns more from observing the animals.
Eventually. he encounters individuals, who he befriends and shares his life with for short periods of time.: a librarian, an old woman, a teacher, a couple of young boys his age.He hides from a couple of others: a ranger and hunters. He spends a whole year living in the mountains.
Eventually, news get out about a wild boy living in the mountains. Increasingly, he seems willing to be found out. His father comes for a visit and admires what he has accomplished admitting that when he left he expected he would come home within a day, week,or month. In the end, (not a very satisfactory one) his family, including 8 brothers and sisters come to find him and decide they will join him if he will not return to the city because family ties are important. They insist they will build a house and not live in the base of a tree. It seems life requires compromises and living simple and pure in the wilds is not realistic.
I guess my grandson know me better than I thought. While I never seriously considered running away from home, I have often dreamed of living alone for a time in a remote natural setting. I have long been interested in the flora, particularly the the edible plants , and fauna of the forest. I have a small library of books, I have read and reread, on edible plants, animal and bird identification, survival skills, camping, and log cabin building. When I was 17 I tried to convince my parents to let me spend the Winter living along in a log cabin on an island in Muskoka. I had already spent six week alone with my canoe when the idea haunted me. My practical parents would not let me miss a year of school so this dream was not realized. I have since then taught myself to do simple minimalist wilderness camping. My rule of thumb was that I had to be able to portage my canoe, carrying one pack ( 45 pounds) with all that I would need for two weeks.. I did this a few times but dreamed about it a great. Even now the notion of packing up and taking off alone in a canoe into the wilderness holds a fascination for me. I have read a lot about the early adventurers in Northern Canada who travelled extensively in the Wilderness. Since I got a computer I am fascinated with remote places in the World where people live, and even some where men have lived but not longer do so. I have long wanted to visit the high arctic region of Canada. Sadly, this will remain a dream, the reality would be far to expensive.
It seems the best I could do was to find my way to River Valley and a farm property along the Temagami River, adjacent to the Temagami wilderness. Here at least I can enjoy the flora and fauna and dream my dreams.