A Walk In the Woods (and a Giveaway!)

Photo by Caroline Bergeron

Photo by Caroline Bergeron

In Calgary, this past spring, I had the real pleasure of reading Leo Brent Robillard‘s fourth novel, The Road to AtlantisThe publisher had asked me to blurb it, which means to give it a tidbit of praise they can use on the cover, and I’m usually careful with these things so I didn’t agree until I’d checked out some of his work and started reading. The book drew me in quickly with its tender, evocative, well-paced tale of a family thrashing and trying to heal following the drowning of the daughter/sister. I like how Quill & Quire described it: “a welcome rarity: a multi-generational family saga that zips along at the pace of a thriller.”

I also found out that Brent’s a walker and as J. and I are already busy planning a few weeks of hiking in the Hebrides next summer, I thought I’d ask him to share some thoughts about what it means to him to get out on his feet. As usual, his writing is precise and profound, so give this a read and then, if you’d like a chance to win one of his books, post a comment about either why you’d like to read The Road to Atlantis or where you like to walk. I’ll do a random draw and contact the lucky winner.

To be properly enjoyed, a walking tour should be gone upon alone.”

-Robert Louis Stevenson

I am then never less alone than when alone.”

-William Hazlitt

I don’t walk enough.  Don’t get me wrong, as a teacher, I am on my feet all day. I probably rack up five or six kilometers before three o’clock. I’m a pacer. It helps me think clearly. When I speak of walking, I really mean hiking, or backpacking. But Wordsworth would never have used these North American idioms. And when I think of hiking, I think of Wordsworth and Coleridge and Hazlitt – those English walkers out on the wolds. I imagine what it must have been like to step out the front door of Dove Cottage and into the hills of the Lake District, leaving behind “the more tedious and less specific.”

But I also think of the American Thoreau, who went to the woods because he “wished to live deliberately.”

Of course, mostly, I do not think of walking or hiking at all. I plan for it. I buy the necessary supplies. I pack my bag carefully. I take a map. But thinking about walking is counterintuitive. To walk is to have your mind expand.

the-road-to-atlantis-518x800My favourite landscape is one of trees and lakes and rivers. But most importantly, mountains. A weekend in the High Peaks of the Adirondacks in Northern New York is sacred. Following the smooth stone highway of Johns Brook into the heart of the Armstrong Range is one of life’s great joys. Surrounded by Gothics, Saddleback, Basin, and Marcy, as I strike out for Slant Rock and lonely Haystack, is like reconnecting with old friends.

Each step is a casting off of life’s distractions. Hydro bills and mortgage payments drop to the footpath and are crushed under foot. Your legs, instantly tired, slowly find their strength, and your lungs adapt to the demand for more oxygen. You move into the silence of the woods at a distinctly human pace. There’s no rush. Nothing is more important than the placement of your feet as you move around rock and root.

Like this you learn to appreciate the essential.

Problems solve themselves in the forest. Stories clarify their intent. It is no small coincidence that so many authors have been, and continue to be, proponents of walking. Large swaths of novel have unfurled themselves to me unbidden while I’ve walked.

But walking in the mountains, in particular, is also a lesson in perspective. Alone on the eroding rock face of a summit, buffeted by wind, after hours of exertion and the last minutes of four-limbed scramble over stone and around the delicate Arctic growth of Deer’s Hair Sedge, I cannot describe that moment of elation that comes from witnessing the world tilt away in all directions. Or the moment you catch a Broad-Winged Hawk quietly hunting thermals upward from the valley floor. We are so very small here. And so perfectly integral.

Thoreau said it best, “As you simplify your life, the laws of the universe will be simpler.” And what can be simpler, or more humbling, than a walk in the woods? That quintessential art of falling forward.

Haystack Mountain - Brent Robillard

Haystack Mountain – Brent Robillard

Where do you most like to hike or walk, and/or why does Brent’s new novel appeal to you? Let me know in the comments for a chance to win a copy of this terrific book! Good luck!

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13 Responses to A Walk In the Woods (and a Giveaway!)

  1. Lauren
    Lauren September 23, 2015 at 9:18 am #

    My mom drew the name of the lucky winner this morning. Thanks to everyone who entered! You can see who won on my Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/writerlaurencarter or on Twitter: @lcarterwrites

  2. Deepam September 22, 2015 at 8:21 pm #

    My son is in the second year of a two-year college course in Wilderness Education. Last autumn he took me on a walk through Scout’s Valley near Orillia and shared with me some magical points about trail creation which I had never considered.
    He had me walk between two tall slender trees and asked how I felt. The path had been purposely built through the trees so that walkers’ troubles swept off as they passed through. Boulders help ground the body in present time, so paths get directed to existing rock. It was so thrilling to know that emotional and psychological elements as well as the physical and geographical aspects are taken into account in trail building.
    Now, when I walk, even when there is no path, I am more keenly attuned to the subtleties of and my responses to the environment.

    • Lauren
      Lauren September 23, 2015 at 8:59 am #

      So interesting! I hadn’t thought of this, but will when I’m hiking in the future.

  3. Colleen September 22, 2015 at 9:52 am #

    I love to hike and the fall is my favourite time of year for it. I often go out to take the dog for a short walk and come back an hour later than I had planned. To me hiking is about wide open spaces and the clearing of the mind. Twenty minutes into a walk my view of the world has often changed and has become a much happier and more optimistic place. I walk along the lake near our house, in the woods in our community, I hiked in Dawson City and Whitehorse this summer and traveled to Lake Placid last spring. One of my favourite local places is the Niagara Escarpment which never ceases to provide new and beautiful views and places. So I guess I could say I will hike just about anywhere. Provided I can see the sky. Cheers.

    • Lauren
      Lauren September 23, 2015 at 8:58 am #

      Thanks, Colleen! Sounds like you’ve had some great hikes lately 🙂

  4. Linda Chisholm September 19, 2015 at 4:00 pm #

    I walked the Appalachian Trail for 10 days with mosquitoes buzzing round me like a shroud, boots fit for blisters, and a pack so heavy I felt aches like a fever at night. i have no desire to replicate that.
    i have walked on the beach for so long I have forgotten where I was or what I was doing. Once I walked in the desert so lost in thought that I was startled to find myself petting a scruffy old coyote.
    These last two examples are my favorite kinds of walks in which my mind seems to go somewhere deep into another world and I return thinking I know things about myself and others I have never known before, like a new kind of wisdom has broken through, like I almost have new powers. But the next best kind of walk is to have no destination, no goal but to look at everything with new eyes, smell everything intensely, touch many things not touched before until my senses are so alive that the the whole world seems new again.
    Some walks are a journey. Some are a meditation. Some are just a slice of life and some are a network of lives. I look forward to reading about this walk, wherever it takes me.

    • Lauren
      Lauren September 19, 2015 at 7:23 pm #

      Really nice; love the coyote story. Love you!

  5. Christine Croft September 18, 2015 at 11:21 am #

    I have read several books that Lauren has recommended, this is now on my list.
    Walking/hiking is a passion of mine, I prefer to walk off the beaten path, following hydro lines in Nova Scotia in the fall is breathtaking!

    • Lauren
      Lauren September 19, 2015 at 7:22 pm #

      Thanks, Chrissy! Sounds lovely 🙂

  6. laura September 18, 2015 at 12:07 am #

    What a great blog post about this new book! I’ve heard such good things about The Road to Atlantis and can’t wait to get my hands on it, give away or no. Personally, I love walking down by the water with views of the city all around, especially at dawn or dusk when only a few people are about.

    • Lauren
      Lauren September 18, 2015 at 8:08 am #

      Thanks for the comment, Laura!

  7. Timmyp September 17, 2015 at 8:33 pm #

    I would love a copy of his book because I’ve read his other three books, I’ve been around his writing for years (he was my creative teacher while he crafted Leaving Wyoming), and he has inspired me to become a teacher myself. I briefly had the opportunity to work alongside him. Felt like Butch and Sundance. Great writer, better man.

    • Lauren
      Lauren September 18, 2015 at 8:07 am #

      Thanks for the comment! Always great to hear about a writer’s influence 🙂

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