I am part of a book club. I really enjoy this group. By being part of this group I am exposed to books I would never pick out on my own. To my delight, I have enjoyed a great number of these books. One such book happens to have been the November selection. It is a non-fiction book... a travel essay titled 'A Walk in the Woods' by Bill Bryson.

Bill it turns out is a fellow Sag. His writing is charming and easy to read. I really enjoyed the facts that he wove into his adventure on the Appalachian Trail. In addition, I found some parts so funny, I was laughing aloud. Bill's account of attempting to get a cab to take him and his hiking partner from Gatlinburg, TN to Spivey Gap's is hilarious. However, he does paint a grim picture of how the forests are dying. Species of birds, trees, flowers and wild life are extinct or near it. Also extinct are hiking trails. Bryson wrote this book in 1998. The AT was 59 years old. Incredible because the Oregon and Santa Fe trails did not last long. Route 66 has mostly vanished. The Lincoln Highway is gone. As Bryson writes, 'If a product or enterprise doesn't constantly reinvent itself, it is superseded, cast aside, abandoned without sentiment in favor of something bigger, newer, and alas, nearly always uglier.'

A few other things I learned from his book that surprised me were about the Forest Service and the National Park Service. First the Forest Service - I thought this meant they looked after the forest. According to the research Bryson has done, the Forest Service is in the business of building roads. No joke. He states that there are 378,000 miles of roads in America's national forests. That is 8 times the total mileage of America's interstate highway system. Why? To allow private timber companies to get to previously inaccessible stands of trees. AUGGG!!!!

Second the National Park Service. They seem to have a tradition of making things extinct. The most striking example in Bryson's book is Bryce Canyon National Park. It was founded in 1923 and in less than half a century under the Park Service's stewardship lost seven species of mammal - the white-tailed jackrabbit, prairie dog, pronghorn antelope, flying squirrel, beaver, red fox, and spotted skunk. This was noted by Bryson as an achievement when you consider that these animals had survived in Bryce Canyon for tens of millions of years before the Park Service took an interest in them. In addition, the National Park Service, in 1957, dumped several drums of poison called rotenone into fifteen miles of creek. OF course, fish died - tens of thousand of them. As Bryce points out, that was a long time ago. Now they have a more casual approach to endangering wildlife: neglect. The Smokies seem to be in the process of losing most of their mussels. How many mussels are extinct or even why they are going extinct - no one knows. 90% of all Fraser Firs are sick or dying in the Smokies from acid rain and a moth called the balsam woolly adelgid. Ask a park official what they are doing and their official line is," We are monitoring the situation closely." In other words, watching them die.

Distraught as this may sound, his book is a wonderful read. Everything is in cycles of dying and renewing itself. Everything that Bryce talks of is in a cycle. It may seem grim but the forest and the earth will renew themselves. This is not to say it is OK to rape the planet, but more to place emphasis on trust in the universe. All is not lost. Everything is in constant change.

The real message of his book is about change. Everything is in constant change including ourselves. What was happening in Bryce's world was a direct reflection of what was going on inside of him. He finds a great amount of displeasure with the maps he has acquired for the AT. Alas, he finds a map done very well for a section of the AT. He speaks of how it feels to have this well done map in hand, however, it is a metaphor of what is happening inside of him through hiking in the forest. Bryce writes, “Now at last I could take my bearings, perceive my future, feel as if I was somehow in touch with a changing and knowable landscape.”

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