Betsy Kepes, NCPR’s regional book reviewer and one of the moderators of this book space, spends summers out west helping in national forests with trail and fire tower work. She sent this post from her summer perch:
Greetings from the Missoula, Montana public library, a bustling yet peaceful place for a homeless bibliophile. I’m taking a couple of days off from my work as a wilderness trail contractor in the Selway-Bitterroot. With my older son and husband I clear trails using non-motorized tools—a crosscut saw, an axe or a small Japanese Silky saw. We carry enough food in our packs for ten days and in that time clear as many miles of trail as we can. Our packs are heavy but we always save space and ounces for the most important recreational item we carry—a book.
Deciding what book to bring out in the woods is more difficult than choosing our food for ten days. At home I have a whole bookcase of books-to-be-read-next. If I don’t like one, I can put it aside and start another. I do, in fact, have a small pile of books next to my bed at home, books that I’ve sampled but not really dived into yet. When I’m backpacking I can choose ONE book and it has to be lightweight, not in the “beach read” sense of the word, but in the most words per ounce sense. I also require a book that will keep me going for ten days with good writing and a compelling story.
I’ve read biographies and non-fiction as my trail books but I’ve had the most consistent success with old, cheap editions of classic literature, their thin pages yellow and brittle and almost see-through with age. This past week I read an almost weightless edition of Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë, a Signet Classic about the size of my hand. I have to admit I’d never read that classic and I had no idea that Heathcliff was such a tormented and tormenting character. I never would have chosen Wuthering Heights if I hadn’t been seduced by its featherweight pages but I’m glad I finally read it. (I won’t, however, pick a Victorian author for my next trail book. I need a break from the characters wasting away and the unreadable country dialect).
What will I bring out on the trail this week? I’ve got a bag full of lightweights to choose from. I could bring something funnier, like a beat up copy of Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. Its print is so small it almost needs a magnifying glass. Now, we need to figure out how to get our trail work done more quickly each day so we have more time to relax by the campfire and read. If only the trees would stop falling down.