My Goodreads page opens to my review of Edward Abbey’s DESERT SOLITAIRE, and my favorite Abbey quote, “A man on foot, on horseback or on a bicycle will see more, feel more, enjoy more in one mile than the motorized tourists can in a hundred miles.”
Abbey speaks truth. So it is with Erling Kagge in his superb book WALKING One Step at a Time. I noticed Kagge’s book every time I worked in the Biography section in the store, but I never picked it up until yesterday. I think it should be in the Nature section, or the Sports section, or better yet, the Philosophy section, now that I’ve read it. Wherever it is shelved, it will likely be overlooked, as I have overlooked it for a month or more now.. The cover is not flashy: green and cream. The font is understated. The back cover reviews in no way prepare you for the excellent prose, the quiet tempo, the intimate detail with which Mr. Kagge writes. Believe me when I tell you that once you open to the first sentence on page 3 which tells of his grandmother’s death because she could no longer walk, until you finish with his grandfather walking to his execution by Nazis in 1945 on page 164, you will not put the book down. Even the footnotes are delightful reading. Who, what, where, when have you ever read a footnote that tells you not only the source of information, but the pleasure the author took in finding that information? And it is likely, as happened to me, you will immediately turn back to the beginning, to start reading again.
This is not a memoir about family, filled with sweet tales of beloved faces, though beloveds are mentioned. This is not a chest beating exclamation of worldly accomplishments, though great accomplishments are mentioned. Yes, yes, he is the first person to complete the Three Poles Challenge (North Pole, South Pole, summit Mt. Everest) on foot. Yes, he has wrtten six books, and collects art, and owns and operates a publishing company in Oslo (Kagge Forlag). Yes, yes, he is renowned, but this book…this book is a steady, quiet, earnest conversation with the author through bits of his life shown through the prism of his everyday walks. Some bits are muckier than others (endure his trek with his companion, Steve Duncan, through the dark, dank, smelly water, sewer, subway, train tunnels of New York which begins on page 110). Some bits are heartwarming, as when he describes his baby daughter learning to take her first steps – those calculated falls. He pulls thoughts on walking from other famous authors; from shepherds, from Socrates, Robinson Crusoe, and cockroaches surviving the millenia.
Kagge discusses the pain felt in long walks. He describes his hunger while on his North Pole trek, and how one, last raisin, dropped onto the snow, led him to get down on all fours to scoop it into his mouth with his tongue. “The feeling of joy from having the raisin between my lips, letting it roll around, and chewing slowly reminded me of something I already knew: it’s important to be able to enjoy small bites.” Reviewers note: I will never stuff raisins in my mouth again…it shall always be one at a time after reading this…sigh.
And while he walks, he wonders if modern life, where we sit more often than stand…lie down more often than walk, will change us fundamentally from the creature we were went to be…yet, because he is out walking while he is wondering, he is not necessarily worried about it. Walking is his panacea…and, he suggests, all of ours.
This book goes down like a slow sip of good scotch. Like gravy over roast beef and mashed potatoes. Like stretching on crisp, clean sheets… and now I must complete this, so I can go take a walk…
Brava, Mr. Kagge! Beautifully written!
READ THIS…IT IS A SALVE TO YOUR SOUL.
“I shall not let my future and/or past life, nor my inevitable death, define me.” Roxanne Harrington 7/27/19
What a waste of my time, truly. Starting over and over again to attempt to read this book. Pretending to be interested in yet another maudlin, navel gazing memoir some company deigned to publish. I cannot do it. I cannot finish it. I know longer feel guilty about it.
I knew I would have trouble with it before I picked it up, when you, the author, apologized to a group of young writers gathered at the store for your book launch event, anxious to meet a published writer; apologized for the condition of the world they are inheriting. How presumptuous to think you are the one to apologize for the actions of all those before you, to think you have the authority to speak for your generation. Your sense of importance astounded me. You do not speak for me.
You write a tome about overcoming your terrible, horrible, hard, and damaging upbringing; about your brutal, priggish father; your sweet, cuckolded mother; neither of whom you will EVER be like… you hope. About your decision to be your own person, to speak your own mind (once you find it), to ROAR like no one before you. Helen Reddy sang a similar song in the 1970s. I am glad you finally heard it.
It is no small fete to overcome injustice. You do overcome. By doing what all people must do when they finally take to the road of maturity. Retreat, realize, recover, rejoice. You move to a cabin high in the hills, pull into yourself, hear your own pulse pumping through your veins in the silence of a mountain with all its glorious fresh air, hardcore winters, glistening, chirping springs, long (never long enough) deep summers…forgive yourself for doubting your own power; realize you are, and always were, in truth, a member of the larger community that sees you, protects you, knows you without imposing itself upon you.
The child assumes it is part of something by how many voices it can identify, how many faces are familiar, who holds it close. The adolescent relishes its protest, its documented struggle to slip free of the invisible chains choking it. The adult sees the truth…that all is familiar, all is common to your soul once you listen to yourself; perceived chains have no links; desperation solves nothing.
Your choice of words are worked into lovely phrases. The pace of your telling is steady, drawing the reader forward to the next clear point smoothly, without delay, yet somehow not rushed. The choking smell of the fire burning your cabin to the ground; peace of the sound of the wind in the trees, your joy of the sight of your dog, all pull the reader into the space in which you stand. Your technique is practiced. Your wordsmithing is developed to almost master level. I appreciate it – some of what you writ echoes what I think, and surprisingly, things I have lived.
Not all of it, though. I quickly tire of lengthy personal stories of the misery out of which one rises; the bottom one hits, before a glorious, exuberant joy that gradually mellows to contentment; the written indignation, outrage exhausts the reader; the detailed justification of that outrage dulls all sense of sympathy.
“Bully for you,” is what I want to say. “Bully, bully, bully for you. You grew up. You gave up the constant angst, anger, and self-pity (did you?). You found (recognized) another who understands you. Brava!
But tell me: What do you intend to do with it? All your hard earned self-awareness? All your “I showed them” back patting? When will you give up the struggle you think defines you? And, most importantly to me, a book buying reader, why (you never told me why) should I care?
It is simple, really.
So easy to just go with the tears, the outrage;
To kick the damned wall, rather than paint it;
To throw out the chipped china;
To cut out the worn spot in the carpet;
To ignore the crack in the sidewalk.
La la la la la – I can’t hear them, I can’t see them!
I cannot see you…
That is the real issue, isn’t it?
You are not nearby.
You are not close enough to reach with the very tip of my longest finger;
Not close enough to hear me whisper your name.
I do not care that you cannot help me work, or pay my bills, or feed and clothe myself, or put a roof over my head.
Those are all things that must be done regardless.
The worst of it is truly that you are not here to hug with joy; to lean against in peace and safety; to enjoy.
JULY 20, 1920 – John Oliver Herman was born at 60 Soley Street, Charlestown, MA, “in the shadow of the Bunker Hill Monument.” His sister Amy, age two, was no doubt delighted to have her new baby brother, but then again, she might have been a wee bit, how to say it…jealous? We’ll never know for sure, but in later years they talked and laughed great deal, telling stories about each other with wide, innocent (NOT) blue eyes aimed to convince you they were telling only the truth. John even stole one of the ebony elephants with the ivory tusks from Amy’s collection she displayed in her “jungle room.” Some one of us kids has it still, I’m sure. I’m also sure the two of them became very adept at torturing their five younger brothers and sisters: Natalie, Dickie, Martha, Pat, and Bill. Here’s to the fun they had. Does ANYONE have that record of John and Dick singing “Baby Face?” I so remember them laughing through it, hollering at one point, “Close the door, Natalie!” Who doesn’t remember John singing “The Old Sow Song” while pumping away at that old organ in Grandma’s house in Amesbury – altogether now, Snort – Whistle – Toot…
TODAY, JULY 20, 2019, we celebrate the beginning of John Oliver Herman’s Centennial Year, which will culminate, no doubt, with great ado July 20, 2020, a triple magic number day in the universe. Over the coming months, I, John’s oldest daughter, shall endeavor to discover and relay hilarious people, tales and events of the years between 1920 and 2020 that John may have experienced and/or caused, and that legend has embellished. This journey may take us to the likes of Les Paul, Jose Jimenez, Wizard of Oz, Vincent Price, Slim Pickin’s (Uncle Don), Nose Pickin’s (Uncle Jack), Gwennie, the AHH Monster, instructions about how to take out your eyeballs to clean them, and/or how to keep your fists up in front of your face while boxing. We may visit Mississippi, Louisiana, California, New Mexico, Minnesota, Massachusetts, and Japan. We shall see. If anyone remembers fun and/or funny things about J O Herman, his family, friends, adventures, do tell… I have come to realize how little kids can know about their parents as people, so will be looking to fill in the blanks…
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, POP, WHEREVER YOU ARE… Look down with that one crossed eye in the sky, and stir up the FUN in living during the last century. Lord knows we have done our share of crying…let’s get to the laughing parts, eh?
They say it is UFO Day…and there will be a full solar eclipse later. Already the light outside is sharp around the edges.
A professor of mine from SNHU has sold all his worldly possessions, and is now on his way to a year teaching in China. Does he inspire? Yes! but I sha’n’t be going to China for my life changing event.
I had the great good fortune of hosting a wonderful author event for Jennifer Pastiloff last evening, and to rave about it online and in emails this morning. Such a collection of touching hearts in one room.
The sun feels so good pouring through this small, side window into the front bedroom I have set up as a makeshift “office” for purposes of showing the house for sale. The air is cool, and still. Emil Catt is snoozing atop blankets covering my turn table and CD stereo system partially packed for the move. Nothing to do at this very moment, but feel the stillness.
There is magic in the air, along with space aliens! Life is good… let’s just enjoy it for today!