1. 1.
    traveling from place to place, especially working or based in various places for relatively short periods.
    "the peripatetic nature of military life"
    synonyms:nomadic, itinerant, traveling, wandering, roving, roaming, migrant,migratory, unsettled
    "I could never get used to her peripatetic lifestyle"
  2. 2.
  1. 1.
    a person who travels from place to place.
  2. 2.
    an Aristotelian philosopher.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A Book Review: Taking Evans' 'The Walk' Across Florida and to Ichetucknee Spring

I've always believed that the quickest way to a man's heart and maybe soul is not through his stomach but through his love of nature. When SAM the Saluki man and I first met at SIU 32 years ago, it was our shared love of all things outdoors that sealed and nourished our relationship. Walks in the woods, climbing glacial-era sandstone boulders at nearby Giant City Park, and studying each other between classes on a park-like campus filled our memory banks with more riches than any exalted career path ever could. When I picked up Richard Paul Evans' The Walk at the library a couple of weeks ago, the title, the cover, and the jacket description of it as a "life-changing journey, both physical and spiritual," captured my attention. Here, I thought, would be the perfect traveling book. We had a journey of our own to take across the state of Florida, and I figured Mr. Evans might have some insights to share with us through his fictional characters. For instance, would the protagonist change his plans to suit an irascible sister-in-law and keep peace in the family? Probably not, since he's hell-bent and trauma-warped enough to insist on doing it his way. Doing it means walking all the way from Seattle to Key West, after he has "lost everything," and he's "taking with him only the barest of essentials." Like a debit card to draw on a hefty account administered by his attractive personal assistant? So he can buy energy bars, trail mix, Pop-Tarts, and beef jerky to fuel his passion for walking. And later to pay for meals at roadside diners and then a night's stay at a luxurious bed-and-breakfast. Some things in this book don't ring true, and I think it might have a lot to do with the walk itself.  
 Before we took that tandem kayak for a float down the Ichetucknee River a week ago Monday and before we ventured across the state to visit the Irascible Sister-in-Law and other, more easygoing relatives, SAM and I felt like we needed a walk in the woods. We stayed in High Springs on Friday night at a cheap but mostly clean motor inn for a couple of reasons. First, the bigger chain motels don't consider it worth their while to locate themselves so far off the beaten path (Interstate 75). Secondly, we thought we might do the float on Saturday morning before heading over to the East Coast. Then the phone call was made on Friday evening to firm up plans for the weekend. The ISIL made it clear that she was fixing a roast for Saturday supper and that the other family members from Australia were going in the afternoon to visit SAM's mom at the nursing home. Wouldn't we like to join them for both events? Black sheep though we may be, SAM and I decided to keep the peace and not make waves, at least not this time. We would swing back by Ichetucknee on the way home to Tallahassee, hoping the sunny, dry weather would hold on for a couple more days. It did. Getting back to the walk, though, we headed out early Saturday morning to O'Leno State Park where we found a swinging bridge to cross. This one was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s. I don't think anyone has too many complaints about the way that particular stimulus plan worked. We're still enjoying the benefits in 2010.
We hadn't planned on staying more than an hour or so walking on the trail, but you know me. Once I start breathing in that lovely pine smell, and looking up at the lofty canopy towering overhead, I'm hooked.

Who needs to buy Pop-Tarts and beef jerky when you can survive in the woods on pine bark and seeds with a side order of pine needle tea? Getting back to The Walk now, I find it ironic that a physical and spiritual journey gets fueled by store-bought fare. Nature is the best provider as well as healer.
I'm not sure what I expected to find between the pages of the book, but product placement was the furthest thing from my mind when I first started to read it. It didn't take long for the name-dropping to begin. By Chapter Two, I knew that the protag, Alan Christoffersen, drives a Lexus and fell in even greater love with a woman who once operated a Kool-Aid stand. Of course, all of the hype could be explained by the fact that he's an advertising executive. He pitches products for a living so brand names belong in this book, right? Not so fast. Maybe they do before he begins his walk, while he's still caught up in his fast-paced, high-falutin' lifestyle, but once he begins preparing for that spiritual journey after losing everything, those brand names should disappear like water down a sinkhole. Not so. Ray-Ban Wayfarers and an Akubra Coober Pedy hat purchased in Melbourne, no less, adorn our hero as he sets out to leave his life behind.
Water never really disappears down a sinkhole. It just reappears somewhere else, downstream, hopefully in better condition than when it sank. (That's probably not the case, though, considering all the organic and inorganic pollutants that somehow find their way into the groundwater and recharge system.)
For some reason, I expect a good book to do that too--reappear downstream, away from the polluted mainstream, I mean. It has a path for me to follow, and even if it starts out a bit awkwardly, I want it to take me somewhere extraordinary.
So when I read on the first page of Chapter One "The water before me [Gulf of Mexico as seen from Key West] is as blue as windshield wiper fluid," I figure there's still time for this book to find its footing. The journey has just begun, right? Well, no, actually the protag has already reached his destination and the story begins at the end. He tells us that he has "come a long way to get here--nearly 3500 miles." On foot. Where does windshield wiper fluid fit in with that picture? Maybe it's the author's voice squeaking through the veil. Evans tells us on his website that he couldn't "write the book without experiencing the path" his protag takes. So he flies to Seattle and rents a car to drive that path. Whatever happened to walking a mile or 3500 in someone else's shoes?
Or floating down a lazy river in someone else's kayak?
Remember I told you that we waited a couple of days to take that float down the Ichetucknee? I'm so glad we did. If we had gone Saturday, the course would have been clogged with many more boats and people. Now, I'm not antisocial, but when I'm in need of peace to do some serious thinking, the fewer people around the better. 
"What is it to be admitted to a museum, to see a myriad of particular things, compared with being shown some star's surface, some hard matter in its home! I stand in awe of my body, this matter to which I am bound has become so strange to me. I fear not spirits, ghosts, of which I am one--that my body might--but I fear bodies; I tremble to meet them..." --Henry David Thoreau, Maine Woods, "Ktaadn," Part 6

I do like Evans' use of a journal and famous quotes to keep the novel flowing, but I wish he had chosen some better ones than this:
"Above all, do not lose your desire to walk. I know of no thought so burdensome that one cannot walk away from it." --Kierkegaard
The Ichetucknee begins with one head spring, and it becomes a mighty flow not far downstream as other springs join it. Not fast moving, mind you, but flowing nonetheless. It takes hold of your imagination and gets away with it sometimes. Like something that Thoreau has written. Now there's a source from which to gather quotes. Who needs to walk away from burdensome thoughts? Take them with you, wash them in the river, and try them on for size again.
"What is this Titan that has possession of me? Talk of mysteries! Think of our life in nature--daily to be shown matter, to come in contact with it--rocks, trees, wind on our cheeks! the solid earth! the actual world! the common sense! Contact! Contact! Who are we? Where are we?" --Henry David Thoreau, as above
Try as you might, you can't plumb the depths of a spring anymore than you can a human spirit's.
It has hiding places that not even its owner knows about. Someone once told me--or maybe I read it somewhere--that every human has a God-shaped hole in his/her soul. He/she yearns for it to be filled with something. It cries out like an empty stomach and is never satisfied with anything less than the real deal.
Nature was never intended to fill the hole. That would be counterproductive. It's not eternal, and I can't take it home with me. The Lobelia cardinalis I find on this trip down the river won't be there the next time I visit, and it's designed to thrive right where it is, not to be uprooted and thrust in some flower bed.
The Great Egret, Ardea alba, is certainly an object to be admired and maybe even studied but worshipped?
Even turtles like this log-hugging River Cooter seem to know when it's time to cut the crap or the tree so that the river's flow continues unobstructed, and as a bonus he gets a place to hang out and catch a few rays.
Where I am going with this train(wreck) of thought as I float down the river, past the Great Blue Heron intent on catching his dinner? To the latest news about a solar installation in the Mojave Desert. According to an article in the Huffington Post, a couple hundred permanent jobs will be created once this project is completed. Woohoo! I'll bet Californians are excited about that prospect. Though, maybe the creatures calling the desert home won't be so thrilled about it. Ah yes, the price we all must pay for progress. Solar Millenium, a German company responsible for designing one of the 14 fast-track projects approved--for permits as well as funding--by the federal government, "will be required to mitigate the project's effect on more than 8000 acres of habitat for the desert tortoise, western burrowing owl, bighorn sheep, and Mojave fringe-toed lizard, as part of an agreement with federal officials." Unfortunately, the animals were unavailable for comment on the mitigation plan. The same could be said for the vegetation and various insects inhabiting the region.
We knew our trip down the river was nearing its end when we saw the power lines spanning the water. Was it the hum of electricity and towering symbol of man's interference with Nature that told us so? Not exactly. The lady at Ichetucknee Family Canoe & Cabins told us to call her so she could drive the van over to pick us up at the takeout point nearby.
That's where this story began, with SAM the Saluki man, climbing outta the 'yak. And the river keeps going, flowing freely, past the point where we left it that day.


  1. You speak some might powerful words! Definitely a post I'll have to revisit to read again. ~karen

  2. What a pleasant float down a meandering river of words. We have sinkholes and lots of springs here in limestone bluff country as well. We work hard to protect our groundwater against the intrusions of mechanized and corporate "progress." I do canoe them as well but never thought of bringing a stiletto with me to skewer a rather trite sounding book. :)

  3. What an enjoyable read this morning, W2W! I felt as if I was floating along with you on the river, my thoughts wandering to different places, just as yours did. I don't think I'll pick up this book now--someone who drives the distance rather than walking part of it doesn't seem very "real" to me. You would think, too, that Thoreau's words would be the natural source to quote for such a book.

    Hope your family gathering went well; I also have an ISIL:)

  4. Pine needle tea is supposedly chock full of vit c. But probably not as tasty as trail mix.
    I enjoyed this read today. I am glad you were able to get out and enjoy nature as well, sans kool-aid.

  5. I think you and I are transcendalists at heart. And if it were humanly possible for me to have a little shack somewhere along the banks of Walden Pond, I'd write my memoir there, and listen to what Nature wanted me to include.

  6. Wonderful read. I am listening to a new find (the Canadian singer Loreena McKennitt, oh my what a voice) on this dark, windy panhandle Florida night. Got hung up on tracking down the "God-shaped hole" author, from St. Augustine to Pascal, and then (somehow), wound up engrossed in reading about the awful debacle at Virginia Quarterly Review several months ago when their managing editor committed suicide. So, I guess reading your thoughtful river meander started me on one of a different sort! Anyway, big enjoyment. Thanks. . .

  7. Enjoyed the walk with you, loved the photos too. Sounds like the book was not worth the read ;p

  8. Beautifully written, sometimes spiritual, sometimes romantic and sometimes fictitious. You were travelling the same path which was taken by the protagonist of Evans, right..?The pictures were really wonderful and it created really an exotic feeling intermingled with the lines that you wrote..

    Also, the mention of your 32 yrs long family life was truly remarkable..

  9. Karen, thanks for stopping in. I hope that things are getting back to normal for you.

    TB, I'm glad you enjoyed the trip. The book really isn't trite. There were some things about it that bothered me. Maybe the protag is more complicated than I know, and the subsequent books in the series--this is supposed to be the first of several--will clear up some possible misconceptions.

    Rose, thanks, and please don't let my opinions keep you away from the book. I'm probably just too quirky about things like walking the walk. Doesn't everybody have an ISIL or two?

    Thanks, Rosey. I thought Kool-Aid had vitamin C too. I can't believe I used to drink that stuff when I was a kid. Yech!

    You don't need a pond, TC, just some of that bluegrass music of yours softly playing and a window to look out onto your property that you've just had a chance to walk about. I'm not sure I'd want to live as simply and frugally as HDT did.

    Thanks, Beth. My daughter loves McKennitt. I usually learn about the younger artists from her, and I agree with you on "my what a voice." I'll have to see where else my meandering led you to.

    RGB, I'm happy that you enjoyed yourself. Actually the book is worth the read. It made me wonder why a popular author takes a certain path with his writing and where he's headed with it. He's not finished with it yet. There's supposed to be a series about the protag's journey.

    Tomz, your praise means a lot to me. I'm not sure if Evans stopped along the way to take a walk or a float. Maybe if he sees this post, he will consider it for the next time he makes the trip. Thirty-two years does sound like a long time to be in love with someone, but it never gets old. I wish for you the same kind of blessing.

  10. You do have such a way with words. I'm with you on the float-I don't want any folks and I'm admitting I am rather antisocial. Like my own company better than most I guess. The float and the walk are the perfect foils for relaxing and getting away from it all. P.S. Smart of you to keep the peace;)

  11. What a wonderful vacation! You take such atmospheric photos, and I love how you’ve tied reading to nature.

    My favorite quotation was yours: “And the river keeps going, flowing freely, past the point where we left it that day.”

    One day I plan to write a nature based novel - a love story for Planet Earth.

  12. I stopped by to say Hello and I so enjoyed this post as everything here is on its way to winter...I also enjoyed your new blog, but I can't leave a comment when blogger uses the embedded option instead of the pop-up unless I go and use IE which I hate...anyway...I enjoyed my visit.... Michelle

  13. Thanks for the book review and the tour. It must be awesome to get away and go on these expeditions I'm always reading on your blog.

  14. Thanks, Tina. You, antisocial? I can't believe it. It's probably just the comfort of garden solitude wanting to spill over in the rest of life.

    Sarah, I can't wait to read it. I know your take on nature will be right on the mark. Thanks for the encouraging words.

    Hello, Michelle! I'm glad you came by for a visit. Thanks for reminding me about the comment feature. I'll fix it on the other blog. I had forgotten that the embedded style is more of a pain than it's worth.

    MBT, you're welcome! It must seem like we're always on vacation, but that's not true. Most of the excursions we take are not that far away or are on the way to somewhere we need to go for business or family reasons. The best time of the year to take them (at least the kind portrayed in this post) is now until next May. No heat, not as many bugs, and fewer people. The water temperature stays about the same year-round.

  15. Great post. The book sounds interesting. Should look into reading it sometime. Just started reading the proof book of son's new gf. Sounds promising.

  16. Hi, Lola! Evans' book is nothing if not a promise. It's the first installment in a series, so there's still time for the protag to redeem himself or rather be redeemed by Evans. It sounds like a new literary star may be on your family's horizon. Keep encouraging her.

  17. I really enjoyed reading this post and you had me laughing at some of the things you said, especially bits and pieces of the book. I had to laugh at ISIL and I actually had to look up the word Irascible.

    I LOVE the swinging bridge and would love to take a visit there someday. I looked up the park on google map and it doesn't look like it would be too far out of the question to take a trip there. I love places like this. Ahhhh to smell the pines is always my cup of Pine Needle Tea too! lol

    Talk to you soon!

  18. guess what? we ended throwing the water out because I didn't trust it. I always get my water at Whole Foods and I am paranoid about drinking certain types of water!

    I agree with what you said about bacteria, etc! I don't care how much they test it, plus it really didn't taste clean and pure. I can tell lol!