A Walk in the Woods

Author: Bill Bryson
Rating: 4.5 / 5 stars
Verdict: Buy

There is no point in hurrying because you are not actually going anywhere.  However far or long you plod, you are always in the same place: in the woods.

Bryson’s humor might not be for everyone (he is definitely a little snarky, something I can relate to), but I think everyone can find at least one thing in this book that they can relate to.  It isn’t just about the discovery of the beauty of America that is being more and more threatened everyday.  It’s also about self discovery, particularly for Bill’s partner in crime who is an alcoholic in recovery.  It is a story about perseverance, and redefining what it means to succeed in the things that you try.

I am very Monkish when it comes to nature (Nature!  I got nature on me!  Wipe, Natalie!), but this novel makes me want to thru hike the AT before I die.  While I usually like to admire nature from afar, Bryson paints a picture that can only really be truly experienced if you are in the thick of it – out in the middle of the woods, sharing small shelters with complete – and sometimes annoying – strangers while soaked to the bone with blistered feet.  It is also a tale about the change nature has encountered in America during our development into a first world country.  It cautions about conservation, or rather things done in the name of conservation.  It cautions about the ignorance a lot of Americans face simply because they’ve never experienced the amazement that is the undeveloped wilderness of America.

I am one of those people that believe we are reaching a new age in America.  With all the technology so readily available at their fingertips, most kids no longer go outside and play.  Vacations into the wilderness are a thing of the past, and the average age of people who visit our nation’s national parks is staggeringly high.  There is a large portion of Americans – including the politicians who govern our country – who do not even believe in global warming and climate change.  It’s a scary world we’re facing, and the experiences and beauty Bryson witnesses during his adventure are exactly the reason we need to stop being reactive and start trying to combat the problem now, before it’s too late (I’m talking to you, you science deniers!).

You don’t have to be an eco nut like myself to enjoy this novel.  Bill and his travel companions have enough misadventures to enthrall the casual reader who isn’t looking for any deeper meaning.  But I implore you as you read to pay attention to the adoration Bryson has for the nature he experiences across the 2,000+ miles of the AT.  In his own words:

I gained a profound respect for wilderness and nature and the benign dark power of woods.  I understand now, in a way I never did before, the colossal scale of the world.  I found patience and fortitude that I didn’t know I had.  I discovered an America that millions of people scarcely know exists.  I made a friend.  I came home.

I couldn’t have put it better myself.


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