Tuesday, August 25, 2015

A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson: My take on the book behind the Robert Redford film


Read any good hikes lately?

Reading Billy Brysons account of hiking the Appalachian Trail, A Walk in the Woods, knowing that Robert Redford is playing Brysons part in the screen version was an odd experience. For one, had Redford not made the movie, I probably wouldnt have bothered to read Bryson's book. I previously read—and enjoyed—Cheryl Strayed's Wild, about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail and I would likely have decided I knew all I needed to know about hiking some grueling mountain trail without reading the old mans version. 


I’ll walk with you, Bobby!

Second, Redford and Nick Nolte are almost twice as old as Bryson and his friend Steven Katz were when they attempted the hike. The idea of men of almost eighty—especially someone with Nick Nolte's lumbering physique— attempting the AT is ludicrous. 

I guess that’s where the humor comes in. Id read that one of the reasons that Redford was attracted to the book was that it was so funny. Hmmm. As much as I liked the book, and certainly there were some humorous situations, most of them concentrated at the beginning and revolving around Bryson's preparation for the hike—the purchase of the gear, the packing of the backpack, and Bryson's fears—but overall I found it more fascinating than funny. 



 Bears on the AT Image Source

Bears hike the Appalachian Trail too!

Bryson intersperses his tale of tackling the trail with all kinds of eye-opening, mind-blowing facts and anecdotes. Like the story of what happens to a little boy when a bear comes snuffling by his tent looking for food, or the group found floating peacefully dead in the water when hypothermia set in. Its a wonder anyone sets out for a walk in the woods at all!

I guess most of us dont. A sad fact from the book ...
 On average the total working of an American these days—that's walking of all types: from car to office, from office to car, around the supermarket and shopping malls—adds up to 1.4 miles a week, barely 350 yards a day.  p. 136
I don’t know where that little factoid came from—Bryson doesn’t say— but if that’s true, it’s an eye-opening statistic. No wonder we have such an obesity problem in this country!

“Everywhere is within walking distance if you have the time.” Steven Wright

As a nature lover—I do love nature, but that doesn’t mean I want to sleep in it—I found Bryson’s accounts, all written in his very accessible, anecdotal style, of the environmental damage we’ve done to our country really disturbing. Most of the destruction has been done heedlessly as we’ve rushed on toward progress, paying little mind to the land stripped and destroyed in our wake. If there’s one thing Bryson’s book did for me, and I hope both the book and the film does for others, is to remind us that our forests, our rivers, lakes, mountains, and even our deserts, with all the living beings they’re home to, really are precious resources. Resources we need for sustenance of body and, of almost equal import, of soul. 




 In America, alas, beauty has become something you drive to, and nature an either/or proposition—either you ruthlessly subjugate it, as at Tock’s Dam and a million other places, or you deify it, treat it as something holy and remote, a thing apart, as along the Appalachian Trail.’ 

So who’s ready to go hiking?


Looking at the trailer (below) for the movie based on Bryson’s book, I can see the movie is not the book. They’ve made changes, added things that didn’t happen in Bryson’s account of his Walk in the Woods. I’ve read that Redford is using the movie to explore friendship and aging. And as I said, Redford and Nolte are too old to play their parts. That being said I saw an article indicating the movie is likely to boost interest in the Appalachian Trail, and that increased attention is bound to be a good thing, generating awareness, and who knows, maybe even action. 



Rediscovering America


Running 2200 miles from Maine to Georgia, the AT can be a harrowing experience or just A Walk in the Woods, depending on where, when and how long you stay on the trail.  Bryson’s subtitle for his book is Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail. That says it all. It’s a rediscovery we need to make before the trail, like the almost extinct American Chestnut tree, disappears completely.




A Walk in the Woods starring Robert Redford, Nick Nolte and Emma Thompson opens September 2. Did you read the book? Are you up for the film?

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