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Book Review: Heading Outdoors Eventually Leads Within

Heading Outdoors Eventually Leads Within” is a small book written by Kathy and Craig Copeland and published through their company, Here’s a summary from the website:

Everyone walks. What distinguishes hikers is that walking does more than transport us, it transforms us. But nowhere is the thoughtful undercurrent of hiking celebrated. The wisdom we glean from the wilds is a match lit in the rain. That’s why we created this book: to cup our hands around the flame. These journal entries are the mental waypoints we recorded while hiking 30,000 miles / 48,280 km (more than the circumference of the Earth) through wildlands worldwide. Accompanying them are photos of the places (primarily the Canadian Rockies, Utah canyon country, and New Zealand) where we conceived and noted the initial ideas. We hope our words and images compel you to recognize, voice, own and honour the thoughts arising from within while heading outdoors. Doing so will deepen your fulfillment. A truly adventurous life is contemplative as well as vigourous.

It is important for me to state at the outset that my opinions, like those expressed in most book reviews, are highly personal. What I write about “Heading Outdoors Eventually Leads Within” are my impressions, and you may not agree with them. I am beginning with this comment because I truly had mixed feelings about the book. There were parts that seemed right on target, for me personally, and parts that seemed to miss the mark. I am certain that the authors have great pride in their work, and they are to be congratulated for their efforts.

The book is essentially composed of photographs of backpackers or scenery, or both, presented alongside aphorisms written by the authors. The opinion is repeatedly expressed that solitude and silence are essential elements for enjoying the wilderness experience. In overt and implied passages, any semblance of a crowd on the trails is taboo.  Hikers are portrayed for the aesthetics of their activities, up to and including their characterization as “temporary monks.”

“Nature massages your brain. Caressing your cortex with beauty, kneading your cerebrum with soothing sounds, it softens your stentorian intellect, so you can hear the quiet, pure voice within.” This is the literary equivalent of aromatherapy. It will appeal to some, but not to others. Then, “Determining the genus or species of a flower is very different than just being with it, appreciating its hues, patterns, textures, complexity, vulnerability, tenacity. Objectifying nature prevents the wonder of it from touching your soul.” I disagree. As a scientist concerned with finding a way to make the wilderness relevant (for the sake of its preservation), I am moved to action by both its beauty and worldly purposes.

There is common sense: “Wilderness reminds us how beautiful the world is and how fortunate we are, but also how dispassionate, unpredictable and hazardous the world is, and how vulnerable we are.” That is certainly true. And lest one think that this reviewer is insensitive, I really appreciated the following: “Wherever nature is grand or vast, people say, ‘Oh, I feel so small, so insignificant.’ They’re just parroting a cliché. I don’t feel diminished by nature. Witnessing nature makes me feel grand and vast. It heightens my awareness, fills my senses, lofts my emotions, expands my appreciation. Being indoors is what makes me feel small and insignificant.” Well done. However, I didn’t understand what was meant by, “Nature fathoms and responds to your recognition.” Nature comprehends? It responds to my recognition? Do I understand nature? Do I honor it? Either way, how does nature respond? Perhaps nature comprehends, but I do not.

The authors admit that publishes books that are “…literate, entertaining, opinionated…” This book is some of the first two and a fair amount of the third. The images are good, sometimes striking, but the white pages with the stenciled letters are harsh surprises that break up the flow.

In summary, there were some insights (“It’s a lazy monarch who never surveys the kingdom. Walk the earth. It’s a stewardship requirement.”) and some non-sequiturs (“Because other people remind us of ourselves, which is precisely what we’re out there to lose.”). The authors write that “Hiking is a conversation with the earth. If more people today participated in this dialogue, as their ancestors did, contemporary society might regain its bearings.” I couldn’t agree more. But Kathy and Craig Copeland seem to want people to do it one at a time, alone and quiet. That is an elitist approach that excludes youth groups, trekkers, clean-up crews, and me and most of my friends.

This book will resonate with some readers and not with others. I am convinced that it was written by people with good intentions — they are members of 1% For the Planet (businesses that donate one percent of their sales to the natural environment). For the price, it’s a fair gift for someone who loves to hike and is looking for meaning.

This post, Book Review: Heading Outdoors Eventually Leads Within, was originally published on by Paul Auerbach, M.D..

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