Eric Pinder's first book Life At The Top dealt with his experiences as a weather observer at the Mount Washington (NH) Observatory atop the said peak and looked at the weather and the mountain from which he viewed it. His second foray Tying Down The Wind dealt with the wind and its many manifestations often dealing with the interactions between mountains and winds. His most recent book North To Katahdin focuses more on mountains, particularly Mount Katahdin, and the wilderness of the Appalachian Trail, but of course, Pinder again sneaks weather into the text; one cannot fully divorce the two.
Katahdin has a significance beyond Pinder's affection for the mountain, it entered into the writings of Henry David Thoreau, particularly in his The Maine Woods. When Thoreau ventured into Maine in 1846, he was one of a handful to seek the state's highest peak, which he spelled Ktaadn, in those early years. In addition, the mountain's summit now serves as the terminus of the Appalachian Trail. For these latter reasons, Katahdin's influence touches many.
In North To Katahdin, Pinder looks into the lure of mountains to the thousands of people who are drawn to the ridges and summits of the eastern United States and particularly New England. He writes: "The cliche about climbing a mountain 'because it's there' just won't do. I want to discover why it's there, geologically, and why, emotionally, I care."
His interviews with hikers and accounts of his own treks are humorous and witty. The pages are filled with knowledge about the region's history, lore, geology and weather creating a vivid portrait of the wilderness. Throughout, he muses on the effects cell phones, synthetic fabrics and GPS units have on the modern hiking experience and wonders how these modern "tools" alter the communion with nature that most trekkers seek. In doing so, he ponders the question: "If wilderness means "an absence of humanity," what do we call it when it's filled with people?"
I found North To Katahdin a delightful read, the perfect book for a lazy late summer day (and a good one to settle into before a fire during the depths of winter). In many chapters, Pinder set me thinking about the changes of the local-wilderness experiences as we become more crowded and high tech. In my previous review of Tying Down The Wind I remarked on the many beautiful turns of phrase the author used in describing the weather. There are not as many here as there, but Pinder still has the ability to weave a poetic phrase or two into North To Katahdin. Here is some of my favourites:
"I stand on the tundra of the mountain's tabletop, a field of granite thrust rudely into the sky. A herd of cumulus clouds gallops across this plain, kicking up dust."
"The hardest part of mountain climbing is writing it down. ... The writer has no easy trail, no fixed direction, no footprints to follow. Writing is an exercise in bushwacking."
If you are a fan of mountains, hiking and getting into nature, North To Katahdin will enhance your library. If not, reading this book might just make you consider a trip into the higher terrain. This book is well worth the read.
North To Katahdin by Eric Pinder 2005, Milkweed Editions, ISBN: 1571312803, Paperback: 178 pages.
reviewed by Keith C. Heidorn, PhD
September 6, 2005
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