Closer to the Ground: An Outdoor Family's Year on the Water, in the Woods, and at the Table

Closer to the Ground: An Outdoor Family's Year on the Water, in the Woods, and at the Table


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Closer to the Ground is the deeply personal story of a father learning to share his love of nature with his children, not through the indoor lens of words or pictures, but directly, palpably, by exploring the natural world as they forage, cook and eat from the woods and sea. With illustrations by Nikki McClure.

This compelling, masterfully written tale follows Dylan Tomine and his family through four seasons as they hunt chanterelles, fish for salmon, dig clams and gather at the kitchen table, mouths watering, to enjoy the fruits of their labor. Closer to the Ground captures the beauty and surprise of the natural world—and the ways it teaches us how to live—with humor, gratitude and a nose for adventure as keen as a child’s. It is a book filled with weather, natural history and many delicious meals.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781938340000
Publisher: Patagonia
Publication date: 10/15/2012
Pages: 264
Product dimensions: 6.42(w) x 9.08(h) x 0.91(d)

About the Author

Dylan Tomine , formerly a fly fishing guide, is now a writer, conservation advocate, blueberry farmer and father, not necessarily in that order. His work has appeared in the Flyfish Journal, the Drake, Golfweek, the New York Times and numerous other publications.

Thomas Francis McGuane III is an American author. His work includes ten novels, short fiction and screenplays, as well as three collections of essays devoted to his life in the outdoors.

Read an Excerpt

As parents, Stacy and I are just starting to understand how active participation in food gathering and production affects our children. When six-year-old Skyla and three-year-old Weston eat the tomatoes they grew, fish they caught, or berries they picked, we can see the pride that comes from contributing to family meals. When the kids serve these same foods to guests, their pride grows exponentially. The biggest surprise, though, is that our children have come to view healthy food – salmon, oysters, homegrown broccoli – as delicious treats. It could be their involvement in bringing these foods to the table, but it also might be the simple fact that fresh and wild foods taste better than what’s available at the supermarket.

Another factor here is our search for ways to deal with the onslaught of electronic communication that seems to define modern life. It’s not that I’m against technology. In fact, last year I learned text messaging so I could stay connected with our small fleet of anglers who share on-the-water reports. But not long ago, Stacy and I were at a barbecue hosted by friends with teenage kids. When I came inside to grab some fish for the grill, I saw two kids sitting at opposite ends of the couch, furiously texting away. It was sunny and warm outside, and here they were in a dark room, staring at cell phones. I asked with whom they were communicating, and without even glancing up, they pointed to each other. I couldn’t help but feel this wasn’t the future I wanted for my children. Perhaps in vain, Stacy and I hope that outdoor pursuits might balance the inevitable technological “advances” that are sure to be a part of their lives.

The process of finding or growing food with our kids provides learning opportunities for all of us. Of course, there are specific skills and knowledge, which accumulate over time, leading to better results and more consistent success. But there’s something beyond that as well. Any student of Zen Buddhism can find valuable lessons while following a three-year-old as he moves through the woods searching for mushrooms. Everything – and I mean everything – along the way is significant, interesting, and fun. The actual picking of mushrooms is almost beside the point.

Table of Contents

Foreword i

Introduction v


Let's Get This Party Started 3

The Food Starts Here 15

The Significance of Birds 25

Springers 27

Conversation with a Six-Year-Old 39

Firewood I: Inventory 41

Off the Deep End 47


Digging Deep 59

Give and Take 69

The Significance of Birds II 85

Summer, Eventually 87

Firewood II: Product Management 87

You Can't Eat Dahlias 101

Kings of Summer 107


Something Bright and Shiny 123

Blackberries 131

Light in the Forest 137

Conversation with a Three-Year-Old 147

Last Chance 149

The Significance of Birds III 159

Firewood III: Procurement 161

Another World 165


Going Coastal: Guns and Shovels 173

Prius Envy 185

The Significance of Birds IV 193

On the Road 195

Deep Freeze 201

Conversation with Stacy 211

Firewood IV: Production 213

Crab for Christmas 219

Gratitude 229

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

"Dylan Tomine—a fly-fishing ambassador for the outdoors company Patagonia—used to pursue steelhead year-round from Argentina to Southeast Alaska, but after watching wild steelhead decline and becoming a father, he returned home to the Pacific Northwest to be a blueberry farmer. Closer to the Ground is a narrative journey that follows his family through four seasons of intentionally noticing their natural environment and getting in touch with the day-to-day rhythms of tide, weather and the seasons. Tomine emphasizes that they aren't completely off the grid; they don't live in a yurt and they aren't strangers to the mall, but they do attempt to keep in touch with their surroundings: "I can only hope that somehow, though participating in the natural world, our need to protect it becomes more urgent.

Tomine weaves his memoir with lyrical passages, family dialogues and accounts of gathering shellfish and chanterelles—as well as delicious descriptions of cooking them—in an engaging, slightly self-deprecating tone. Particularly poignant is his description of a snowy egret that he sees when returning home from a fishing trip. It reminds him of his grandfather, "a forager of spring fiddleheads and forest mushrooms, a poet who wrote a single, perfect haiku for every day he was held in the [Japanese] relocation camps." Alongside these beautiful passages are Tomine's frustrations of fishing expeditions hindered by squalls and his constant worry about chopping enough firewood to last through the winter. Closer to the Ground inspires readers to examine their own daily lives and rediscover their surroundings." —Kristin McConnell , publishing assistant, Shelf Awareness

"Dylan Tomine’s Closer to the Ground is a pleasure to read, depicting as it does the days and seasons of a family intent on living joyfully, and providing at the same time a lively meditation on our relationship to nature.  I found its buoyant, irrepressible, self-deprecating tone entirely winning, and was drawn in, happily, from page one." —David Guterson, New York Times bestselling author of Snow Falling on Cedars

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