The other day I was doing some research for a job interview and I came across what is now my favorite poem. It is by former Washington State Poet Laureate Elizabeth Austen and it is the answer to every person (and there have been many) who has ever asked me why I am ok hiking and camping in the wilderness alone.
The poem is quite long but here’s my favorite part:
I walk into the wilderness alone because the animal in me needs to fill her nose with the scent of stone and lichen, ocean salt and pine forest warming in early sun.
I walk in the wilderness alone so I can hear myself. So I can feel real to myself.
I go because I know I’m lucky to have a car, gas money, days off the back and legs and appetite to take me there. I go while I still can.
The girl who goes alone claims for herself the madrona juniper daybreak.
She claims hemlock prairie falcon nightfall nurse log sea star glacial moraine huckleberry trillium salal snowmelt avalanche lily waterfall birdsong limestone granite moonlight schist cirque saddle summit ocean she claims the curve of the earth.
The girl who goes alone says with her body the world is worth the risk.
First of all, I want to curl up and live in the endpapers. So green and lush. Gah!
This is a book I bought in the US but was published in the UK and written by the owner of a small, lovely hotel in Wales. It details all of the ways they think about submerging themselves and guests into the forest, a topic I am obsessed with right now. I love so much of it, starting with the suggestion to not only take walks in the forest by daylight, but to experiment with walking in the dark.
Most of us are afraid of being out in the dark, of walking in the countryside in the gloom of the dusky shadows and silvery glows, the not quite seeing. A city late at night has its own dangers, but a determined-and-with-purpose speed walk will get you home fast and fine. A walk in the woods, through a field or across a deserted beach on a cloudy night without a moon is DARK. The sort of darkness that has an animal quality, like a living thing. All your other senses — hearing, touch, smell — become heightened and alert, making up for your weakened sight… Every time we go out into the dark there is always a nervousness about the unknown and not being able to see properly, like when you go into the deep sea, but as you become accustomed to your surroundings, you can slowly physically connect with the blackness. Once you have done so, you can listen out for snuffles of night animals. (!)
I’ve also bookmarked pages that talk about collecting flowers and branches in every season to take home and use on a homemade wreath, and a section on how to use leftover wax and pine cones to make easy fire starters for the next time I am car camping. It’s a lovely book with good paper and beautiful photos — I’ll keep in out in my living room for awhile. And it’s inspired me to go on a (f)forest adventure of my own tomorrow!
2019 was a really solid year for reading. My life was up and down and all over the place and my aggressive goal of reading 80 books kept bringing me back to reading when a lot of the time all I wanted to do was surf the internet. Don’t get me wrong, there are times when surfing the internet is great, but I spent way too much unproductive time on it this year and I was glad to have the reading challenge nagging me back to books, which to me are more satisfying. In all I read 80 books, nearly 30% of which were on audio. My average rating on a 5 point scale was 3.6, which is naturally skewed because I usually don’t bother to finish books I don’t like which means very few 1s or 2s. I managed to stick with my goal of writing a short 25-word book review for most of the year but fell down on that in the last few months. It’s fun to do and a good memory prompt so I’m going to do it again in 2020.
Eighty is the highest goal I’ve ever set for my reading and I’m re-upping it again in 2020. In order to make it in 2019 I had to borrow a giant stack of graphic novels from the library in mid-December, knowing that I could read them faster than regular adult works. This too ended up being a great prompt. One of the books in my top 10 is a graphic novel (Good Talk) and I rated another three graphic novels 4 stars (Hey, Kiddo; The Adventures of Alexander von Humboldt; My Brother’s Husband).
So, without further delay, here are my top ten books of 2019:
The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead
Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou
Good Talk: A Memoir in Conversations by Mira Jacob
The River by Peter Heller
Fleishman Is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner
The Most Fun We Ever Had by Claire Lombardo
I Like to Watch: Arguing My Way Through the TV Revolution by Emily Nussbaum
Mrs. Everything by Jennifer Weiner
It’s Okay to Laugh (Crying Is Cool Too) by Nora McInerny Purmort
Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, Her Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed by Lori Gottlieb
I’d love to hear what you enjoyed this year — after all, I’ve got 80 books to read!