Sunday, October 16, 2011

Walking to Vermont - Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks - Week 38

This week I read Walking to Vermont by Christopher S. Wren as part of the Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks challenge. I'm still a few books behind where I wanted to be (I should be on Week 42). My goal is to catch up by the end of the month.

The author was a foreign correspondent who retired and then set out to walk 400 miles on the Appalachian Trail. At 65 years old, he did this in five weeks.

The book combines his present journey from New York through the Housatonic River Valley of Connecticut, the Berkshires of Massachusetts, the Green Mountains of Vermont, and finally to Hanover, New Hampshire with reflections and memories about his work and life overseas.

For me, I much preferred reading about the hike; what and who he saw along the trail; and learning more about what that experience was like. Reading about being a foreign correspondent in the Middle East, Russia, and South America (among other locations) wasn't the highlight of the book for me. In fact, I found myself skimming over these sections since they were not what I was hoping to read in this particular book.

What I enjoyed reading about were the geographical and historical facts he included. For example, about 300 years ago, "New York and Connecticut had quarreled over [a] nondescript border strip .... The dispute was settled in 1731 by creating a tract called the Oblong, fifty-one miles long and two miles wide, which Connecticut later gave up." More information about the Oblong is HERE.

Further along, he passed Bulls Bridge which is a covered bridge across the Housatonic River. According to the author, this spot "...gained renown as the spot where George Washington's horse fell into the water back in 1777. The father of our country spent five hundred dollars, big bucks for a fledgling nation that tottered on the brink of bankruptcy, to get his horse pulled out."

Wren wrote about encountering other hikers on the trail - some traveling in groups, others in pairs, and some by themselves. There were hikers who were walking the entire Appalacian Trail - from Georgia to Maine - and others who (like the author) were walking only a portion of the trail.

It sounded like the majority of hikers were making solitary journeys. He quoted Henry Thoreau regarding the value of solitude: "I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude. To be in company, even with the best, is soon wearisome and dissipating."

Another quote in Walking to Vermont was from William Cullen Bryant, and it opened the chapter about Vermont: "Ascend our rocky mountains, let thy feet fail not with weariness, for on their tops the beauty and majesty of earth, spread wide beneath, shall make thee to forget the steep and toilsome way."

It reminded me of driving through Vermont last month and the beauty of the Green Mountains. As Sophia, Olivia, and I traveled through this section of the country, we thought about the slaves who were escaping to freedom along the trails of the Underground Railroad. Crossing through the mountains of Vermont and reaching their tops may have produced a similar thought as Bryant wrote above.

As Wren hikes through Vermont he comes to Aldrichville, a village (complete with a textile mill, homes, farmland, etc.) that once use to exist but has now become part of the forest again. The U.S. Forest Service has a Relics and Ruins program, and has done an archaeological dig here. Some stone walls still remain here along with posted information from the Forest Service.

By the time the author completes his walk, he seems to have a new perspective on his life and retirement. He quotes Chinese essayist Zhou Shuren (who wrote under the pen name of Lu Xun):

"When I was young, I had many dreams. Most of them I later forgot, but I see nothing in this regret. For although recalling the past may bring happiness, at times it cannot but bring loneliness, and what is the point of clinging to lonely, bygone days?"

It's a time to let go and move on with one's life. That, in essence, is what Wren realizes after his 400-mile hike.

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