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.