Sunday, March 18, 2012

A Walk in the Woods

 For the nature photography class I'm currently taking, our instructor assigned us Bill Bryson's book, A Walk in the Woods, to read and review.  Below is my reaction to and thoughts about this book.

In the opening of Bill Bryson's book, A walk in the Woods, he describes a desire to hike the Appalachian Trail because it would provide healthy exercise, interesting, a way to reacquaint himself with the beauty of nature in the United States, would teach him to survive in nature, and would make him more manly. He also wrote about wanting to experience the great Appalachian Mountains before climate change totally alters them. With the exception of wanting to be more masculine, these are all motives I completely understand. We have been spoiled by technology. While I really like having a cell phone, sleeping in a warm soft bed, plumbing, and all the other conveniences we have, I think people are losing respect and awareness for nature and the planet on which we live. I wish I could take an adventure like Bill Bryson went on, to gain the sense of independence and to be more aware of, better understand, and be more in touch with nature. Additionally, I grew up in the hills of West Virginia and spent many summers of my youth camping, so I have a love of hiking trails and of being out in the wilderness. 
Overall I enjoyed reading A Walk in the Woods, both for the overall content and tongue-in-cheek tone, but there were a few parts which I did not like. Perhaps I am being overly sensitive, nitpicking, or such, but I was offended by sentiments such as, “The woods were full of peril... loony hillbillies destabilized by gross quantities of impure corn liquor and generations of profoundly unbiblical sex...,” Usually I do not mind when people make jokes and poke fun at my (and other states), but something about statements like that which Bryson included rubbed me the wrong way. Maybe it is because I am from an Appalachian state, and some of the people who live in my area back home could be lumped into a category like that, but I did not find that particularly witty or amusing. However, there were other sections of the text which were probably politically incorrect, some rude, etc., which I did find amusing.

Bryson's narrative of preparing for his trip, from shopping for equipment and laying in his new tent in his basement to meeting with Katz and getting on their plane, was interesting and entertaining. His account of the first day of the trip was also interesting. I enjoyed the sections about the history and specifics of the trail, because although I knew it existed, I did not know how it started, who started it, or many of the details. Bryson did a nice job of blending informational sections with his personal account and thoughts. 

Throughout A Walk in the Woods, I enjoyed the dialog very much. Bryson was entertaining in his recounting of events and personal interactions during his adventure. He wrote about the characters they encountered well. The other hikers and people Bryson and Katz met along the way had color and were entertaining, as were his few brief accounts of the wildlife they crossed paths with. Their hiking woes, how they trudged along through wind, snow, rain, and shine, were fun to read about as well. The towns they stopped at and town folk they met were always adventures in and of themselves, as well. 

Overall I found Bryson's A Walk in the Woods an impressive and inspiring book about nature, the Appalachian Trail, and a new close-up perspective of the American wilderness. Walking the AT (even skipping parts, as Bryson and Katz did) takes stamina, bravery, and a lot of motivation. It made me want to pack a backpack and my camera and head out for a long adventure. His account of camping, hiking, and being so involved in nature made me miss being home in the mountains and miss camping and exploring in the woods. At the same time, however, it made me also realize how much I appreciate the comforts of city life, and how undergoing a trip like that would probably be too daunting for me to start out on. 

As I was reading this book, I kept thinking what wonderful photography opportunities there were. Bryson did a fantastic job describing everything he saw and experienced, but I think images resulting from such a trip would be fun to take and interesting to look at. The different towns, the fellow hikers (such as the boy scout troops, Mary Ellen, etc.), the beautiful views they came across, and other sites would all probably make for a great photography series of book in and of themselves.

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