Accounts of the simple pleasures of enjoying the outdoors are not popular today. Perhaps it is the influence of reality television or Andy Warhol’s fifteen minutes of fame now becoming not just an observation but a demanded right, but it seems it is not enough to revel in time spent outdoors.
Being outside and enjoying the simplicity, beauty and enjoyment of nature, when even a description of shoveling a driveway is an epic worthy of Homer, is not adequate.
Everything must be larger than life and, well, epic.
But this genre of “epicness” is not really about the outdoors per se in many, or even most, cases. It is about a journey that happens to take place outdoors. The outdoors as a stage for a person’s own theatrical production.
It is a genre of literature that can be good, or bad but is mainly mediocre I find…perhaps even boring. (Others, the vast majority, may disagree).
We all have our own tastes. Some people may think my favorite short story author was a drunken adulterer for example and his short stories are dreck.
Point being, my personal tastes means I just want to read a story about the outdoors at times. And not read about a journey of self.
Not that an outdoor focused narrative can’t be about the journey or be reflective. River is perhaps my favorite book about a journey taken outdoors. But it is a journey told as part of the outdoors rather than the outdoors being merely a backdrop to some drama.
Then there are the simpler tales of the outdoors in terms of the telling.
Where the tale is just told.
No ruminations or deeper meanings readily apparent on the surface.
Dick Poenneke’s journal, photos and popular PBS documentary are classic examples of this “do, don’t tell” style of story-telling.
The joy in the story comes from reading or seeing about a life lived as a person wants.
Which is a long preamble to the latest book I finished reading: Alone in the Fortress of the Bears by Bruce “Buck” Nelson.
I met Buck several years ago as he was hiking the Continental Divide Trail (CDT).
But the CDT, a tough trail for many (myself included) is just one of many jaunts he’s done. Jaunts pretty amazing by any standards. Traversing the Brooks Range in Alaska, pioneering a little known route through Nevada and Idaho, paddling the Mississippi…. Buck just plans well, goes out there and does his planned jaunt. And enjoys it.
I finished Alone in the Fortress of the Bears during a much more milder jaunt this past weekend.
As I was in my sleeping bag and enjoying the warm glow of a candle lantern, the book was finished one page turn at a time.
Buck spent seventy days fishing, hunting and foraging in Alaska. No supplies were flown in or out. It was a trip that he had been dreaming about since childhood…he did it.
It was not a tale of “epicness” where every day was a hardship.
It is a tale of a competent outdoors person who was able to eat fresh salmon, hunt deer, find huckleberries and other edible plants. Hiccups happened. But calmness and experience overcame these issues.
Buck did not plan to be a hermit. He’d say hello to the occasional (rare) person who came into the Alaska cove he called home for a summer. And he’d check his email and update his blog every so often at a nearby (relatively speaking) small fishing resort.
In the Fortress of the Bears is not a book to be read about for any great insights into the human condition.
It is not meant to be.
Rather it is refreshing to read a story about outdoor experiences that is not hyperbole and “just is“.
And among the practical narrative, a few reflections do peek out:
“These mountains, those trees, Wild Bay, are here day after day, but it’s the quality of the light this evening, this very minute, that makes the experience of being here so magical.”
While reading the book, I could almost smell the salt water, feel the cool rain and see the morning fog of a remote cove in Alaska.
Those who enjoy a narrative about living in the outdoors, while being self-sufficient in a remote area, will find the book to their liking.
The book is not dramatic. It is not full of angst. And it is not about performing one Herculean task after another.
It is an enjoyable yarn told well about a competent outdoors person who is enjoying the beauty and bounty of the natural world.
Read the book. And enjoy the narrative that is about the outdoors.
Note: Buck sent me an electronic copy for review. As mentioned, we met before and have corresponded for years. I felt honored to receive a copy. This book, among other books and videos, may be purchased at Bucktrack.com.