Book Review: My First Summer in the Sierra by John Muir

I remember my first summer in the Sierra. It was a good one. Yosemite Valley: the East Buttress of Middle Cathedral with Henrich; cragging with Lori, Jean, Sean, and crew; naps by the Merced; shenanigans with Rich. Tuolumne: Cathedral Peak; Matthes Crest; more shenanigans. Bishop: wanderings on Mt. Williamson with Dan; and deer antlers.

My First Summer in the Sierra
My First Summer in the Sierra

I believe it is near impossible for anyone to have a bad first summer in the Sierra. There is no bias or first-hand experience to influence the first timer. Instead, there are only first impressions and the imagination. And the Sierra does not disappoint. Fantasize all day; look at photos; read books. But in the end, when you finally arrive after all of that dreaming, the real deal will take first place.

As you journey toward the Range of Light, read about Muir’s first summer in the Sierra, for only when you arrive and see it with your own eyes will you truly understand—and feel—his manic passion.

You can pick up an illustrated edition from my publishing company here.

Book Review: Walking by Henry David Thoreau

When I’m lost in the mire of work and life, I like to escape from my desk and responsibilities for a walk amid the woods or down an empty country gravel lane. These walks help me to re-center my thoughts and priorities, for during the hustle of the day these often become focused on things that are of no importance. The walks also—and perhaps more importantly—force me to interact with the world as it really is: muddy, dusty, smelly, cold, sweaty, wild, and—often—absolutely perfect.

Walking: Annotated Edition
Walking: Annotated Edition

If you take away all of our societal obligations and duties, all we have left to do is walk around and be amazed with what we see. Get rid of the car. Get rid of the bicycle. Throw out the TV and the computer. Walk to Goodwill and give them those dusty board games that were played once and already are missing a piece. Downsize the city mansion for a well-worn, one-room cabin. Get rid of these things and we need less money to live, and thus we can work less and live more. Now what to do with all of this newfound free time? Walk! Strip us of all of our possessions and what are we? We are simple human beings equipped with legs and arms for walking and scrambling over the globe. And we have been blessed with eyes, ears, a nose, a tongue, and touch through which we can experience this wild world of ours.

And out of this wild world was born Thoreau—a wild man that civilization could not box. Pay a poll tax? He preferred imprisonment. The latest fashion? How about a decades old suit? A beard to attract the ladies? One word: neckbeard.

So what can we learn from this wildly independent person? We can learn to see the world as it is. We can learn to enjoy the world as it is. And we can learn to embrace the world as it is.

“Walking” is a book that should be reread each year and before any journey. I know that I benefit from this exercise.

The Annotated Edition is available from my publishing company here.

Book Review: Woodcraft and Camping by Nessmuk

During high school and college, I spent a lot of time developing my wilderness skills. I made campfires in the rain. I built simple shelters for protection from bad weather. I searched for edible plants. And I tracked wildlife, day and night.

College was in the city and far from anything resembling wilderness. As a result, I was constantly in need of something to remind me of the woods. Oddly enough, in the dark, lonely corners of the library, tucked between dusty stacks of books, I found traces of the wildness that my mind and soul needed.

Woodcraft and Camping by George Washington SearsOne book opened my eyes to the private oasis that lay in the library basement. The book had the simple title of “Woodcraft.” Hmm, what’s this? The edition was printed in the early 1940s. The last time someone checked it out was in the 1970s. Promising. I flipped through the pages and found illustrations of custom hatchet handles and rough shelters. Then I read a few paragraphs. There were recipes for natural mosquito repellent and instructions for moving through unknown terrain. I was hooked. I learned that woodcraft, as a movement, is about more than mastery of rote skills. It is an applied philosophical approach and understanding of civilization, the natural world, and our place in them.

On weekend nights, I washed dishes at a wedding hall. Once, I told an older coworker that I was a woodsman and practiced woodcraft. A look of surprise came over his face. Dude, you’re in porn?! It goes without saying that my future efforts to educate him on woodcraft failed, miserably.

Nessmuk’s “Woodcraft and Camping” is a fantastic introduction to the skills and philosophy of woodcraft. I hope that the practice of woodcraft leads you to the wonderful sanctuaries to be found amidst civilization and nature.

You can pick up a copy from my publishing company here.

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