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In this profoundly moving hymn to the wild places of our land, reflected in the Boundary Waters of Minnesota and Ontario, the author of Grass Roots and The Necessity of Empty Places offers an ecstatic contemplation of nature and one's place in it. 212 pp. 6-city author tour. Targeted print ads. Online promos.
Gruchow describes the region, parts of which are federally protected, as a "land of dense forests and thick bogs, of rocky ridges and deep, clear lakes." Though he is disdainful of those who can't "connect," (e.g., who carry alarm clocks into the wilderness), Gruchow is no macho outdoorsman. He admits that he is powerless in the face of nature; that he doesn't entirely command his life; this he understands as a condition of "maturity." In the wild, he says, we confront evidence of powers greater than our own; in this humility is the beginning of spirituality. Gruchow has a gift not only for aphorism but for description: The moose, for all its impressiveness, looks "like the discarded early draft of an idea for an animal." Gruchow is a passive observer, there to discover, as he says in one essay, the reds in the fall trees. This gives the book a certain calm but also, in its weaker stretches, a flatness. The best section is a long essay in which the author describes reading Walden over a period of weeks one winter with three college students. When one of them proposed they try Thoreau's experiment, the group determined to spend a time at a wilderness base camp, Seagull Lake, were they read widely and wrote every day. Gruchow succeeds in making new many of the Waldenite's observations, though he realizes the limitations of Thoreau's experiment, assured that "the perfectly Thoreauvian life," lived as it is away from society, would not be worth living.
Should find an enthusiastic audience among naturalists with an interest in wild places, whether they've already explored the Boundary Waters or are simply content to accept Gruchow's version of it.