Tuesday, May 08, 2007

A Hike in the Mountains

Bill Bryson is an interesting guy. I think I went on in a blissful and rhapsodic way about his A Short History of Nearly Everything, which I loved dearly. And now I'm listening to A Walk in the Woods, read by the author. It's abridged, and I don't know how much (not too much, I think, based on the length of the audiobook and the length of the print book). It's a fun, interesting read, full of historical facts and funny observations. I'm not a hiker, and he confirms that I never will be, but I'm glad to have this vicarious experience.

But when he starts in on his discussions of the National Park Service or the American attitude toward the wilderness, I'm bemused. Right now, for example, he's discussing how he doesn't understand why Americans are so interested in keeping wilderness wild, and how he'd much rather that there were some farms or hamlets along the trail. He's poo-pooing (if I may use the term) the much vaunted "protected corridor" through which a certain part of the trail runs, and comparing it to hiking in Luxembourg, where you pass through hamlets and past farms.

It seems so British to me. It reminds me of the scene in Arcadia by Tom Stoppard, in which one of the characters is talking about the landscaping on a big English estate and how they tore up the pastures to create a faux wilderness, but how the pastures were artificial, too, because that was just another generation of landscape architects trying to recreate the Italian countryside of the classic authors.

What kind of hamlet is he talking about? Every town he's walked through he's described as ugly, boring, nondescript. He wants cute, scenic little places, but authentic! Untouched by the modern era! And they shouldn't get any bigger, that would ruin the beauty of nature. No, we want charming signs of civilization of juuuuust the right size.

It also reminds me of my father's customers, who want him to stay the quaint, authentic, crusty figure that he is, in spite of the fact that this involves him never making any more money.

I don't mean to whine. I'm really enjoying it. But he's kind of demanding--I'd think of it as "full of dreams," except he's kind of insistent, even when he's not being very practical.

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