FRESH OFF THE PRESS!
This lovely new edition is now available. You can order direct from our website to receive the limited edition of copies printed on linen cover stock, or you can order through your local bookseller, bookshop.org, or Amazon.com.
Limited edition copies here: WITHIN THESE WOODS | riverfeetpress
Below is a full review of WITHIN THESE WOODS, written by David Backes, author of A Wilderness Within, and editor of A Private Wilderness: The Journals of SIgurd F. Olson
In the first chapter of his 1854 book, Walden, Henry David Thoreau claimed that “the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” The book told the story of his experiment of deliberate living at Walden Pond in Concord, Massachusetts. Quiet desperation doesn’t need to have the final word, he believed. We can find fulfillment and joy in life by becoming our truest selves. And nature has a way of helping us do that.
Fast forward 167 years. If anything, the mass of Americans lead even more isolated, quietly desperate lives. The average family moves every five years. Loneliness and depression are widespread. We have larger homes, but fewer people to share them with. We have more things, but struggle to know ourselves in the midst of the exhausting busyness of our lives.
“Within These Woods,” by Timothy Goodwin, provides an antidote for those who want to recover a sense of belonging and meaning. Like Thoreau, he knows that quiet desperation doesn’t need to have the final word. And, like Thoreau, he shows that nature can help us become our truest selves and lead lives of fulfillment and joy.
Each of the book’s 44 brief essays focus on one fellow creature: a wildflower, a tree, a bird, a mammal or a reptile. The final essay on the night sky is the sole exception to the pattern, but it, too, like all these creatures, is something Timothy and his family encounter on a treasured bit of lakeshore property in north central Wisconsin. The property has been in the family since the early 1980s, and over the years the land and the creatures on it shaped Goodwin’s life in both subtle and direct ways. His experiences there pointed him first into a career as a high school science teacher, and later as a professor of environmental education.
Goodwin writes in a highly accessible, conversational style. It’s easy to imagine you’re sitting on the porch with him, sharing stories. In every essay he presents some facts of natural history, but he does it with a light touch, and he mixes natural history with anecdotes from his experiences or brief tales from Indigenous cultures. If you’re looking to learn about the deer mouse, or wild rice, or the black bear, smallmouth bass, white pine or any of the several dozen other creatures he describes, you will pick up interesting facts about them in a way that keeps you interested.
But the book’s real value goes beyond that. We cannot find the fulfillment we seek if we don’t know ourselves, and we can’t know ourselves in isolation from others. The quiet desperation of our times is a direct result of a culture that pushes extreme individualism as a form of freedom. In fact, it is a toxic denial of our true selves. We can only know ourselves in relation to others, for we are all connected.
We are connected not only to all other humans, but to all beings and the ecosystems that sustain us. And perhaps this is where Goodwin’s book is most valuable, for he points out many of these connections, and with gentle wisdom discusses some of the implications for us two-legged creatures that so often wander with eyes and ears closed to reality. Let wandering lead to wondering, and nature will help us reconnect to the world around us and the wilderness within. Read an essay or two of “Within These Woods,” then set it down for a while and go outside. Get to know the fellow creatures who share your little corner of the world. They have things to teach you, if you are ready to listen with inward ears. They may even help you better know yourself.