“Many years ago I was taught by stones, stones collected from south Texas and rocky Colorado, Michigan's Upper Peninsula and the sun-blazed cathedrals“Many years ago I was taught by stones, stones collected from south Texas and rocky Colorado, Michigan's Upper Peninsula and the sun-blazed cathedrals of Zion National Park, Wyoming's Big Horns and the plain-dressed woods of rural Indiana. A shaman's stone from South Dakota. Leopold's wilderness prophecies and a fall while climbing that taught me to sit still.”
That is how Kerry Temple sums up his lessons in “Back to Earth: A Backpacker's Journey into Self and Soul.” The book is a lyrical meditation on knowledge gained from nature, the solace Temple has found in long hikes and backwoods journeys. As the book begins, he's at a loss; his marriage his ended, and his path has become misdirected, diverted by the tiny, cumulative compromises of everyday life. In an effort to re-focus, Temple moves to an isolated cabin in South Bend, Indiana, one without radio or television or even a clock. There he contemplates, recollecting old journeys and talismans he has collected along the way, rocks that evoke scenery, beauty and lessons learned and forgotten.
The book is a seeker's tale, recounting a lifetime of hikes and, through time spent in nature, efforts to reconnect with a unifying purpose, a God seemingly stripped of his dogma. Temple steps steadily through old memories on the trail, moving patiently toward the transcendent experiences he seeks there. His hikes are varied—they take him to Wyoming and the Rockies, Lake Superior and the frozen Arctic. These are places where he walks in company, shivers in the hubris of youth.
As he looks back, Temple wonders how he led himself astray, how his sense of purpose eroded under obligation and ease. He explores his new surroundings, venturing into the stream bordering his cabin, listening to the shifts of the seasons. The book is open to the big ideas of natural philosophers—Leopold, Muir, Emerson—but remains grounded in their exploration. Temple faults our society for its emphasis on the immediate, but he faults himself as well, avoiding the tediousness of the scold.
“Our species has come a long way since timekeeping meant monitoring celestial migrations and contemplating the universe in all its twinkling wonder. Yet we seem less attuned and more bewildered. Perhaps, in asking how best to spend our time, we have forgotten how to ask, “Is this how I was to spend my life?” Progress is not absolute.”
At times, the book can seem overly nostalgic for a preferred past. In lauding the connection people once shared with nature, Temple can glide over over famine and disease, natural disaster and tribalism. At one point, he states, “It is significant, I think, that the deterioration of our species' psychological and spiritual health has coincided with its gradual separation from and exploitation of the earth.” I would quibble with that assumption of deterioration.
But “Back to Earth” is a rewarding read, humble and wise, full of stories that inspire longing for rucksacks and trails. Nature does hold something essential for us all; the book is persuasive there. We just need the time and space and solitude to discover that meaning for ourselves.
“What I remember, too, is Mac picking us up that first Sunday when we'd grown weary of too-short rides and paved highways. I remember his last name was McGowan and he said to call him Mac and he said do not worship nature for it is only the face of God, not God itself. And he took us for a drive and pointed us north, and in the meantime took us fishing and touring around, higher and higher, deeper and deeper into the woodsy mountains.”
“'I wouldn't call the Indian way “religion,” said Father Bill Callahan, a Jesuit priest I had met the day before at Red Cloud School in Pine Ridge. 'There is no dogma, no structure, no mimeograph machine.' 'It is spirituality. They believe in the sacredness of the created world and the spiritual idea of personal and family holiness.'”
“There are other places on the earth, many similar constructions, stones of various sizes, pyramids and etchings, altars and carved rock tablets linking the human species to the celestial machinations, indicating a need to discern, to correlate, to map somehow the mysterious and awesome power of creation, looking for a higher power's hand in it all, believing in the spirited intelligence that beckons from just beyond the horizon. We come and leave our offerings upon the landscape too—our own prayer feathers, medicine bundles and humble pouches of tobacco.”
“It has also occurred to me that these truths and hopes and good intentions are of little power if hey do not last, if they are not incorporated into the affairs of human interaction, if they are not brought along and shared, integrated into the lives of those around us. It is one thing to revel in the beauty and order of creation; it is another to find it here among the people, the many nations with whom I live.” ...more
My Wild Kingdom is the autobiography of former Mutual of Omaha Wild Kingdom host (and Lincoln Park Zoo director) Marlin Perkins. The narrative is lineMy Wild Kingdom is the autobiography of former Mutual of Omaha Wild Kingdom host (and Lincoln Park Zoo director) Marlin Perkins. The narrative is linear, starting with his Missouri boyhood and moving on to far-flung expeditions scuba diving with sharks and snowmobiling alongside reindeer migrations.
The early parts are compelling, as Perkins remembers a pre-Depression childhood, conjuring an era and setting that still carry a whiff of the frontier. He works his way across the country, starting his career with animals by dropping out of college to take a job at the St. Louis Zoo.
As a narrator, Perkins is confident and straightforward, offering recollection without much reflection. His lifelong love of animals--particularly snakes--is tempered with a blunt collector's approach that can seem exploitative today. While the book bogs down a bit at the close with details of filming Wild Kingdom, he remains intriguing and approachable throughout, particularly for fans of animals....more
As promised, this is a comprehensive history of the Chicago River, taking it from its meandering origins in the muck left behind by retreating glacierAs promised, this is a comprehensive history of the Chicago River, taking it from its meandering origins in the muck left behind by retreating glaciers to the increasingly constrained path it takes today. Overall, the book provides a fascinating look at how the waterway spurred the development of Chicago. Its "hop, skip and a jump" of a portage from the Great Lakes to the Mississippi spurred dreams of trade and profit.
Author Libby Hill is thorough in exploring the different facets of the Chicago River, even if she can get a bit caught up in her own language at times. I was most interested in the natural history of the river and the experiences of the native Americans and earlier traders before the waterway was improved. The pace of development along this swampy marshland is hard to believe!
As the story progresses and more parties gain interest in manipulating the river, the narrative becomes a bit more muddled. The story even seems to repeat a bit with the creation of the Illinois and Michigan Canal and Sanitary and Ship Canal. Obviously there are similarities in the processes, but the different eras aren't rendered distinct.
By the time we hit the 20th century, the book gets pretty thick with acronyms and agencies. That does reflect the reality of the river in our modern age, but it can be a bit of a slog to work through. Still, Hill does admirable work keeping the developments comprehensible, and it's nice to see the river shift back a bit toward conservation--and appreciation--as our story ends....more