Closer To The Ground by Dylan Tomine, Walking Home by Simon Armitage and Gossip From the Forest by Sara Maitland
Before you burrow and hibernate over the holidays, head to your nearest bookstore and grab these three books, either for yourself as a treat or for the outdoors enthusiast in your life. All different and quite unique, these reads will make you travel from your cozy armchair down dark ancient forest paths, through weather-beaten moorland trails and around the wild waters of Puget Sound islands. They might even inspire you to explore the great outdoors differently in the future. Not that you should launch into an Odysssey-size journey in 2014, but adventure is never far off if you keep an open outdoors mind.
I’ll start with Sara Maitland’s [easyazon_link identifier=”1847084303″ locale=”US” tag=”frmo0a-20″]Gossip From The Forest – The Tangled Roots of Our Forests and Fairytales[/easyazon_link], for an enchanting exploration of British woodlands and modern retellings of traditional fairy tales. Starting in March, the author visited a different UK forest each month of the year. Each chapter is a literary foray down the forest’s different tree essences, botanical observations interwoven with the area’s rich cultural history and traditions, as well as Maitland’s own experience. Here, you learn that the royal Forest of Epping was opened to the public by Queen Victoria in 1882 and that it is protected by four “rangers” known as Verderers, an ancient forest office first introduced 1,000 years ago by Saxon kings. That I met a Verderer during one of our walks in Epping Forest gave a 3-D dimension to the book for me as I felt I’d just met a unicorn. Imagine coming across a person who embodies a long line of 1,000 years of forest protection – as you were told in a chapter you just read. Eerie. As Maitland deconstructs each forest layer by layer, she also discusses the forest origins of German tales and how our relationship to nature has changed, particularly in the context of children. If you have children in your life, you will long to let them go all Swallows and Amazons on you. You don’t have to agree with everything Maitland writes, but you’ll certainly learn a few things and be left to wonder about the origins of your nearest forest. Aren’t forests perfect places for enchantment?
Second, I suggest you remain on British territory and hop on to [easyazon_link identifier=”B00C6T42WA” locale=”US” tag=”frmo0a-20″]Walking Home – Travels with A Troubadour On The Pennine Way[/easyazon_link]by Simon Armitage. A British poet, Armitage challenged himself to walk the iconic Pennine Way – UK’s equivalent to the Appalachian Trail – in the reverse direction and financing his adventure with nightly poem readings. Good luck with that. Neither an outstanding athlete nor an accomplished outdoorsman, Armitage comes off as oddly unadapted for such an arduous journey and almost comically, he gets disoriented and loses the trail a few times. However as the book progresses, he proves to be not only a resilient walker but a funny narrator and a fantastic observer of human and animal life on the trail. Initially, I had a hard time getting into the book and found the author grumpy and at times too judgmental on people he met but his talent for self-deprecation, his craftsmanship as a writer and his impromptu slice-of-life snippets make the story a really intriguing read. At times, I felt I was right there with Armitage in the back room of a pub when he was reading his poems after a grueling walking day, trying to compete with the hum of beer coolers, the noise of a fruit machine noise and the clack of pool balls. And so, I quickly got into a nice reading routine, like he got into a nice walking routine, and towards the end, couldn’t put the thing down.
Third, I invite you to cross the mighty Atlantic Ocean and go through the Panama Canal to Puget Sound way up there in the Pacific Northwest for Dylan Tomine’s [easyazon_link identifier=”B00FBBL5EI” locale=”US” tag=”frmo0a-20″]Closer To The Ground – An Outdoor family’s Year On The Water, In The Woods and At The Table[/easyazon_link]. Tomine’s book narrates four seasons of family adventures on an island across from Seattle. Clamming, crabbing, mushroom foraging, blackberry picking – there’s probably very little Pacific northwest nature that’s unknown to Tomine and that can resist his curiosity. A fly-fishing ambassador for Patagonia, Tomine is an amazing outdoors guy, a respectful environmentalist and a dotting father. Embarking his daughter Skyla on a King salmon fishing trip, he resists the urge to help her as her line goes taut and lets her grow into her own fisher-girl, catching her first ever King salmon for a dinner with East coast relatives. With his dinosaur-loving son, he sets off for the woods next to his house on a chanterelle-hunting expedition and comes back for a full winter load. Balancing the needs of his two children with his passion for outdoors living, he and his wife also seem to be a great cook and I turned many a page in that book feeling hungry just by reading their meal descriptions. The book could almost be a guide to survival in the wilderness with a few foodie notes. If you want to discover what it’s like to live so close to nature and be inspired, Closer To The Ground is a great book that will make travel in spirit and that will make appreciate nature even more.
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