Back to Earth

Kerry Temple was a married father of two grown boys when his life unraveled in his “middle years.” By unravel, I mean divorce and estrangement from his sons. So he moved into a secluded cabin in the Northern Indiana countryside and tried to make sense of it all. The subtitle of the book is “A Backpacker’s Journey Into Self and Soul” and it’s a recounting of much of that time in the cabin. It’s also an exploration of how nature and outdoor adventures can be positive, influential forces in one’s life.

Before we dig into this, I’ve said it before, some day I’m going to hike the Appalachian Trail. This is a desire harbored in the deepest recesses of my brain, but I’m comfortable getting it out there; it was a hook for this book. The author is also an ND grad and editor of the ND Magazine, providing another hook. And finally, this book was referenced years ago in Outside magazine, a publication that I usually enjoy reading (even though I don’t subscribe).

The cabin I mentioned brackets the beginning and the end of the book. He talks about his stay at the cabin in the first few chapters, switches gears and devotes the middle chapters to his most memorable trips in the backcountry, and ends with his eviction from the cabin and subsequent building of a golf course on the land (I really want to know which golf course).

He writes in an artistic style with many references to the mysticism of the outdoors. This isn’t exactly what I expected because I thought it would be more about how he resolved his family problems through thoughtful meditation in the solitude of the outdoors. But his divorce and the after effects are not part of this book. This book is about his general relationship with the outdoors. Here is one of his thoughts near the end of the book:

My time here [the cabin] has shown me again what I discovered as a teenager loose on the land but had forgotten in those intervening years – that the landscape does offer spiritual sustenance, a sense of grace, and an avenue to the divine. Perhaps those two – the land and its spirit – are not that different. And the human race, in order to find redemption, to locate itself, to be at rest in the world, must find again the union of the two.

I think Temple’s intention throughout the book is to expand on two points from the quote above. First, think about what was special – what you valued – when you were younger and if you’re not living those ideals, figure out why not. Second, the science and technology of the modern world may hinder your pursuit of living a happy and satisfied life, but contemplative time in the woods can offset the destructive aspects of our “technoindustrial” society.

The beauty is that Temple never tells you these things or beats you over the head with these themes. It’s not a self-help book, it’s not an environmentalist rant, it’s a philosophical look at his own life and how his meanderings in both the modern world and the backcountry have affected him. He poses thoughts and retells experiences with wonderment and introspection. I got used to the tone within a few chapters and really enjoyed it.

It inspires me to live smaller, to minimize my impact on the globe, to find beauty in nature even if I don’t live in the woods. I’m sitting in my living room right now with the lights off just watching the snow fall with the city lights as a backdrop. It really is beautiful. In fact, I turned off the golf (Phoenix), in HD, believe it or not.