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The way we live … and a walk in the woods

'The Way Home: A Wilderness Journey,' by Bibi Wein

A walk in the woods can be both exercise and metaphor. That was part of the conversation recently among a group of us hiking leisurely in Wilmington.

Discussing whether to take the steeper and shorter trail or the gentler, longer one, one of us recited part of Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken.” The poem didn’t help us decide — old muscles and slippery leaves did that — but reminded us of times we were disoriented in the forest, and how such confusion is also part of our lives beyond the woods.

Bibi Wein’s “The Way Home: A Wilderness Journey” explores the parallels between the life we live and the walk we take in the woods. The beginning of her book describes how a short hike with her husband near their camp in Olmstedville went badly, forcing them to spend the night in the woods.

Wein is a friend, but I did not know her when I read “The Way Home” for the first time. I was impressed by her description of how missing a few trail markers can force us to endure a cold night we hadn’t prepared for. There’s irony in writing clearly about how one got lost, connecting the proverbial dots for the reader that the author hadn’t noticed while walking. Bibi Wein does this very well.

But it is where she went from there that makes the book especially insightful. Wein explores a familiar theme in Adirondack literature. How do we preserve the natural beauty while we experience it? How do we live in it and also make a living in it at the same time? Wein writes well of the impact of development in the Adirondacks, not only on the landscape but on the people who love the area the way it was when they first moved here.

Another part of Wein’s “Journey” has to do with a neighbor, who is a careful carpenter, a good friend, a caretaker for Wein and her husband. When he passes away, a fuller, and surprising, picture of the man Wein thought she knew emerges. As she had failed to see some trail markers on her hike, Wein had also not seen her neighbor fully.

“The Way Home” begins with Wein’s walk in the woods. But, a bit like how Robert Frost says, “Yet knowing how way leads on to way” in his famous poem, she takes the reader off that path and explores a larger world and her neighbors. This book was published in 2004, and I read it soon after. Reading it recently after I got confused in the Wilmington woods, I found it again insightful.