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Ten Observations From Walk In The Woods By Bill Byson, Who Has Just Published A New Book

Updated on October 21, 2019

After Covering The Appalachian Trail, Bill Bryson's New Book Checks Out The Human Body


Reading About The Appalachian Trail Was Much More Fun Than Walking It

The timing could not have been better, since it will be the first item on my Christmas list. If it is even half as good as his other books, Bill Bryson's new work will be a good way to get through part of the winter.

Titled The Body: A Guide for Occupants, the latest book has Bryson discussing, through the facts and comedic anecdotes so characteristic of his writing, the human body. That subject had been alluded to frequently in an earlier book from 1998, when Bryson gave his own physical being quite a test.

Back then he had set out to walk the Appalachian Trail, starting from Georgia and ending in Maine. His delightful chronicle of that odyssey is the focus of A Walk in the Woods, my favorite of the dozen works in his catalogue.

While I anticipate the arrival of the new book in my stocking some weeks from now, I may as well recall ten highlights I learned from reading Bryson's account of the Appalachian Trail.

1. Bryson was appalled, justifiably so, when his new backpack did not come with straps, nor was it rainproof. Those necessary accessories had to be purchased separately.

2. Snickers was the main source of food, often providing the nourishment of breakfast, lunch and dinner.

3. The National Forest Service spends most of its revenue on the building of roads, mostly with the purpose of allowing private timber companies to get to previously inaccessible strands of trees.

4. When bears who have grown accustomed to humans end up harming someone they are taken by rangers to backwoods far from roads and picnic sites, thus putting in peril hikers who are the only people out there.

5. Bryson bluntly but accurately describes Gatlinburg as a place where "pear-shaped people wandered between good smells, clutching grotesque comestibles and bucket-sized soft drinks" amid 100 motels and 400 gift shops.

6. Bryson calculated that for every twenty minutes he was on the trail, he walked farther than the average American walks in a week. He with good reason bemoans the fact that the typical U.S. citizen walks a total of just 1.4 mile per week,a mere 350 yards a day.

7.During a budget impasse between Bill Clinton and Congress in the Nineties that shut down the National Parks, Shenandoah spent $20,000 to wardens at each trail entrance to turn back all hikers.

8. Abolitionist John Brown had an army of just 21 people when he captured the armory at Harpers Ferry, so it took Robert E. Lee only three minutes to quell the rebellion.

9. An underground fire, which started during the coal-mining bonanza after the Depression, was fifty years later still seeping smoke in Centralia, Pennsylvania just off the old Highway 61.

10. In the "Varmint Campaign" of the Thirties most eastern states had offered extravagant payouts for every creature killed, including the $90,000 handed out in bounties for the killing of 130,000 owls and hawks. The practice led to the extinction of the mountain lion, the timberwolf and the elk in the Appalachians.


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