Monday, August 21, 2006

A Walk in the Woods

I'm a little ashamed to admit, I haven't read a lot of books in recent years. Newspapers, magazines, blogs - yes. Books, no. So when good friend and neighbour Carl gave me Bill Bryson's A Walk in the Woods for my birthday this year, I was a bit daunted. Had I lost the ability to read an entire book? I decided to put off diving in until I went away to the cottage last week.

Well, let me tell you, this book is an absolute joy to read! I can't recommend it enough. It had me laughing out loud, thinking deep thoughts and reading passages to anyone who would listen. Carl got me this book because a walk in the woods is part of my daily routine. I take my dog, Zero, out to one of the many nearby trails after lunch each day for an hour of squirrel chasing, tree marking, and bush whacking. I transport this activity to the rather more isolated trail network near the cottage we rent each summer in Haliburton. There are no bears around where we live, but lots and lots around the cottage. I'm always a little nervous hiking those remote areas alone, and reading the following passage didn't exactly help:

Now imagine reading a nonfiction book packed with stories such as this - true tales soberly related - just before setting off alone on a camping trip of your own into the North American wilderness. The book to which I refer is 'Bear Attacks: Their Causes and Avoidance', by a Canadian academic named Stephen Herrero. If it is not the last word on the subject, then I really, really, really do not wish to hear the last word. through long winter nights in New Hampshire, while snow piled up outdoors and my wife slumbered peacefully beside me, I lay saucer-eyed in bed reading clinically precise accounts of people gnawed pulpy in their sleeping bags, plucked whimpering from trees, even noiselessly stalked (I didn't know this happened!) as they sauntered unawares down leafy paths or cooled their feet in mountain streams. People whose one fatal mistake was to smooth their hair with a dab of aromatic gel, or eat juicy meat, or tuck a Snickers in their shirt pocket for later, or have sex, or even, possibly, menstruate, or in some small, inadvertent way picque the olfactory properties of the hungry bear. Or, come to that, whose fatal failing was simply to be very unfortunate - to round a bend and find a moody male blocking the path, head rocking appraisingly, or wander unwittingly into the territory of a bear too slowed by age or idleness to chase down fleeter prey.

This week; illustrations selected to accompany short passages from A Walk in the Woods © Bill Bryson 1997.


  1. Awesome imagery!

    No nookie in the bush?!
    Whar's Rene gonna do?

    Great stuff Leifer

  2. Thanks buddy! For truely awesome imagery, people should check out Jeff's site at

  3. Troy Oxford1:33 PM

    good stuff as always. thanks!

  4. thx Troy - my pleasure. :-)

  5. Hi Leif,
    Great blog you've got over here! The stuff you're showing brings back a lot of memories. As a kid I learned a great deal by drawing from the Famous Artists School-series my father owned. The work of Albert Dorne, Al Parker and Robert Fawcett are etched in my mind for ever. All the basics are in there. Later I went to art school and they really looked down on all that stuff. But I always felt that I'd learned fundamental things from those books.
    I think it's a good thing you and others are archiving commercial art from the past. It contains a huge amount of craftsmanship from which we can learn.
    But I'm also critical towards the growing interest in commercial art from the 40's and 50's. There are loads of illustrators who are not only inspired by the craftsmanship of the past but are also copying the exact styles from these periods creating nearly exact replicas and indulging themselves in nostalgia. The art that was made in the 40's and 50's fitted that period perfectly. I guess we would have missed out on some great stuff if Al Parker had decided to become a Retro Kid copying the exact styles of his predecessors.
    Looking at the work of all those great known and unknown commercial artists from the 40's, 50's or whatever period fills me with joy and inspires me to investigate new ways to express ideas and feelings that are relevant today. In the knowledge I can always fall back on my predecessors for good advice.

  6. Marco; Many thanks for your long and thought-provoking comment! I appreciate especially your suggestion about what might have happened if Al parker hadn't been such an innovator. But I disagree that there are many illustrators imitating the 40's/50's period. Its a topic worth discussing in greater detail, and you've inspired me to put together a post about it in the near future - I hope you will contribute to the discussion!

    Thanks again - L ;-)

  7. The copying I'm referring to doesn't so much concern the realistic styles from the past as the more cartoon-like styles. (Like in the book 'Krazy Kids' Food!') But I'll be awaiting you post on this topic.