I picked this one up as part of my preparations for an upcoming trip to Vermont. Unfortunately, since Wren was walking to Vermont, thRating: 3.5 stars
I picked this one up as part of my preparations for an upcoming trip to Vermont. Unfortunately, since Wren was walking to Vermont, there wasn't really much of the state in the book. However, I did end up enjoying it.
Wren is a retiring journalist - a foreign correspondent - for the New York Times, and decides to literally walk into his retirement. He is walking from his apartment in NYC to his house in Vermont. This involved walking through the city and its suburbs and then walking part of the Appalachian Trail.
Throughout the book, Wren reflects on his experiences as a foreign correspondent, comparing moments in current time with the past. It was really interesting to read his stories.
I also liked his descriptions of all the excesses of Americans, which rang true. Especially enjoyed this this tidbit he added: The Chinese describe such excess as "drawing a snake and adding feet." But sometimes, he definitely came off as entirely "you kids get off my lawn!" I.e., that crotchety old man you want to avoid. (Though I can't say I'm not getting there myself!)
Even though this didn't really have much to do with Vermont, I'm glad I picked it up. I need to read more books about the Appalachian Trail (and the Pacific Crest Trail, the West Cost equivalent).
Quotes I liked:
I slept no worse than anyone else might after trudging eleven miles over mountains, downing three beers, grilled salmon, a chicken quesadilla, and a banana pudding pie, then stretching out on a queen-size inner-spring mattress in a darkened room in front of C-SPAN. (p111)
Food writers can be a pretentious, irritating lot, and no more so than when they disparage chocolate desserts as sinful or decadent. Sin and decadence are words that define the human condition, not desserts. Sinful? Dropping poison gas on the Kurds when you're the despot of Iraq is sinful. Decadent? Ordering forty-dollar entrees and sixty-dollar bottles of wine in an exclusive restaurant in Manhattan is decadent, when the less privileged are sleeping on the grates outside. Chocolate is merely delicious, and what's the sin in that? (p121)
Today, American-style adolescence remains a luxury that much of the world still cannot afford. (p198)
I had this book reserved prior to my trip to Vermont last month, but I ended up receiving it after I returned. As it turned out, that was actually a gI had this book reserved prior to my trip to Vermont last month, but I ended up receiving it after I returned. As it turned out, that was actually a good thing.
We were only in Vermont for a few days so it wasn't like I got the "full experience" of what living there is like, but we spent a lot of time driving around and visiting local places so it was a nice introduction. It turned out that this brief intro was helpful when I started reading this book because while I didn't visit most of the places mentioned, I still was able to picture them, as well as have a feeling for Vermont life while reading.
So far, including this one, I've read three Crown Journeys books. While they all fall into the general travel genre, I've found that you never know what you're going to get in each book. With this, I thought it was going to be a standard "experiences in Vermont" type book, focused on hiking in particular. But I got much, much more than that.
While it is about the author hiking through Vermont and into the Adirondacks in New York, the book is more a philosophical reflection of our place within nature, and particularly the wilderness. And the author calls it "wandering," not hiking, which I felt was accurate in terms of his actual journey and the thoughts expressed throughout his trip.
Bill McKibben is the author of The End of Nature (which I have yet to read!), a book exploring environmental issues and their effects, and how we need a fundamental shift in how we view nature and our place within it if we are ever to solve these problems. (I'm basing this on reading the blurb about the book and a couple of reviews.) That originally came out in 1989, and this book seems to tread some of the same issues, but also touches on ways people are trying to make a difference in Vermont.
There is some of the "typical Vermont" that you think of:
Subarus are to Vermont what bicycles were once to Beijing, so nearly ubiquitous that it's impossible to recognize your neighbor by his vehicle. The supermarket parking lot might as well be a Subaru dealership. (p20)
But while wandering through, McKibben visits and introduces us to farmers, professors, students, birders, other environmentalists - a whole host of characters who have found their homes throughout the region and are working on ways to make it better. Sometimes he talks about the huge and long-term effort it takes to turn an environmental issues into something positive:
It takes longer to be responsible, in logging as in every other thing on the Earth. (p26)
Overall, McKibben comes off as somewhat curmudgeonly but I usually found it hard to disagree with most of what he says. There are moments of optimism:
To be around young people, who haven't yet made all the compromises and concessions that life will urge them to make, and to see them finding older people who can help them go a different way, is to be reminded that the world really is constantly fresh, and that therefore despair for its prospects is not required. (p51)
Of course, considering my interests, my favorite sections were when he discusses wildlife conservation. For example, there is a lot of worry around the world about invasive species - animals that make a place within an environment to which they are not native and end up wreaking havoc (see: lionfish in Florida). McKibben explores some of that while hanging out with Warren King, conservation biologist and birder:
If we're going to talk about wildness, and believe me we are, we have to face the truth that it's a little hard to separate out the natural and the artificial, a little hard to figure out exactly where we're planting our feet. For instance: this afternoon Warren and I are standing on a little bridge above Dead Creek a few miles south of the waterfowl refuge. "You notice how the water is kind of mocha here?" he asks. "One reason is the clay soils - the particles get stirred up all the way along the creek by carp fanning their tails." But carp are an exotic species, introduced from afar. So is the mocha color "right"? (p66)
He goes on to talk about more at-one-time-invasive species, that have made a home in the area, and how some of them are wiping out native species, while at the same time, creating their own niche and becoming helpful to other species in the area. McKibben continues,
So do you wring your hands over this, rooting for the dogwood and the prickly ash, rooting up the buckthorn? Or do you just decide that nature is whatever it is - that since the world is in constant flux, there's no real damage that can be done to it? (p67)
These questions of what constitutes the natural, what composes the real, when you draw the baseline, how much change a place can stand before it loses it essence - they are the questions that will grow stronger and louder the farther west we go, into the Adirondack wild (whatever "wild" means). (p69)
I found the discussion of what "wild" really means anymore fascinating. This was somewhat touched upon in Craig Child's The Animal Dialogues, though I think he still distinguishes between "scenic wilderness" that you may find in a park versus true, wild wilderness. McKibben, however, wonders if this "wild" really exists anymore.
Was our place wild, or natural, anymore? For that matter, was any place? The peculiar physics of global warming mean, in fact, that the North and South Poles will be hardest hit - that is, the places that really are free of any other human history, really are wild if any place is wild, might just as well be in the middle of the eastern megalopolis or the SoCal suburbs. (p99).
However, he goes on to add that "the idea that there is no such thing as pure wilderness has made the relative wild all the more precious." (p100)
For me, then, one of the reasons for wild places is so other people can fall in love with them — because surely there are others wired like me, for whom this landscape w ill be enough. Enough to reorient their compass in a new direction, too. Most of the time now we live under a kind of spell, a lulling enchantment sung by the sirens of our consumer society, telling us what will make us happy. That enchantment is a half-truth at best — you don't need to look very hard at our culture to see that deep happiness is not its hallmark. But breaking that spell requires something striking. For some, it requires seeing how poor people really live, or understanding the depth of our ecological trouble. Or, maybe better, it requires seeing other possibilities, the kind of possibilities I've been describing on this trip. A world where neighbors provide more for each other, growing food and bottling wine and making music, a world where we could take our pleasure more in the woods than in the mall. A world where hyperindividualism begins to fade in the face of working human and natural communities. (p134)
I'm not sure how wide the appeal for this book might be, but I'd definitely recommend it for environmentalists, conservationists, and others, like me, interested in these kinds of issues. It will certainly give you a lot to think about and absorb. This was not what I expected out of this short book about wandering through Vermont but it was more than worth it!...more