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Friday, April 6, 2012

Book Review: North Country Cache by Joan H. Young

North Country Cache: Adventures on a National Scenic TrailNorth Country Cache: Adventures on a National Scenic Trail by Joan H. Young

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I encountered North Country Cache: Adventures on a National Scenic Trail while 'chatting' with other readers. The title interested me, I looked it up, read some sample chapters, and decided to buy it. I contacted the author to purchase a copy and found her gracious and humorous. I have never met her, except online the day I decided to buy this book. With that said, here is my review:

The title of this book refers to a 'National Scenic Trail' the North Country National Scenic Trail, which stretches from North Dakota and ends in Port Henry, NY, crossing North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York. The sections of the book with the individual essays/chapters refer to happenings and observations in different parts of the trail. A map with a star shows the location and general mileage of the hike.

So much for format.

Each section recounts the hike, and since what is going on inside your head at any given moment is a valid part of an event or activity, Ms. Young has that feature, as well. This is part of what makes this book such an enjoyable read: Ms. Young (I'm going to refer to her as 'Joan' from now on) has an active and retentive mind and a gift for observation and expression. An example is this bit from page 126 where she makes some observations regarding the economic impact of a (well known) hiking trail on the local community (hit: hikers will come to the community to purchase supplies and such):

It is interesting to observe the evolution of urban centers as their primary ode of transportation changed. Where the canals came first you now often see a row of very old storefronts that face on some dismal ditch, or perhaps just an odd linear depression which no longer connects with anything. Sometimes the railroad lines followed the same rights-of-way as the canals, and then there might be a newer set of buildings just a block away, but facing the same corridor...

Interesting thought. I tend to be very observant, but I hadn't thought of that.

Each hike that she takes, whether a day jaunt or over several days, is a story complete in itself, presenting issues specific to that hike. Chapter 41 - SHE WHO BUILDS FIRE, starting page 211, speaks of a hike in Ohio. She wanted, she said, to translate the title into Native American, but the choices were troublesome and she kept them in English. She tells of the hike, which goes past Cedar Falls (nice photo inserted - more on that) and ends with a rather damp camp and the comment by her buddy that it would sure be nice to have a fire; too bad it'll be impossible to start one. She offers to do that, is told it's too damp, goes ahead, and...

Nevertheless, in just a few minutes we are squatting around a bright fire holding warm cups of coffee and chocolate. Buddy (the trail pup who was brought along) nuzzles close to enjoy a warming hand on his back. Soon there is a fine blaze going, sustained by rolling three large logs in toward the center of the fire. Whenever their ends crumble to coals I roll them in a little more.

Taking a long sip of his drink, Rich sighs contentedly. "I'll have to give you a new name," he proposes. "I think I'll call you 'She Who Builds Fire."

Joan's descriptions are enjoyable; she writes very well. Gray layers of shadow and fog soften the hard edges of the day as we spend a cozy night at the Klondike shelter.

She hikes with friends and acquaintances, with a trail pup (Chip, who passed on and was given a wonderful tribute) and she encounters people. Reading her account is like listening to an articulate friend tell what happened while on a jaunt.

I mentioned a photo of Cedar Falls. This book is full of photos - good ones that illustrate the walks, things that caught Joan's attention, that point up her writing. Page 221 - 223 contains The Song of Hiawatha's Friends (faked me out) complete with photos. My only criticism is that the photos would be more visible on slick paper. But then the whole book would have to be printed on slick paper, since there is a wealth of photographs, and I like them all.

All in all, Joan Young has put together a complex book that satisfies on many levels. It is a book that can be read in sips, that you can keep by your chair to sample, or else plow through. It is thoughtful, and it is effortlessly written (that's hard to do). If I were to compare this to any others I'd read, I'd have to say that it reminds e of Edwin Way Teale's work, my favorite being Autumn Across America. I also find myself remembering Annie Dillard's Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.

This is an excellent book, well worth the five stars I've given it.

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