A Child’s Walk in the Wilderness – An 8 Year Old Boy and His Father Take on the Appalachian Trail by Paul Molyneaux: Book Review
Several years back, as my son Josiah was approaching graduation, I became enamored with the idea of he and I doing an AT thru-hike together. One spring near the beginning of my infatuation, Dana, Josiah, and I inadvertently stumbled into that old stone CCC building at Wa-lasi-yi known as Mountain Crossings. While Josiah and I were inside imbibing the magical atmosphere of this incredible outfitter Dana saunters in and informs me that she had just been on the AT. “What?! No way!” Sure enough, the AT actually travels right through Mountain Crossings. Josiah and I burst into a sprint, ran out the door and raced each other to the back of the building where we saw our very first white blaze. Wonderstruck, we continued down the old footpath, blaze to blaze for a mile or so where we paused to let the moment sink in. Josiah climbed down from a tree he’d been sitting in, turned toward me and said, “Dad?…let’s keep going.” I’ll carry those words and that mental image with me till the day I die. How I wish we had.
Last week, with my REI dividend check in hand, I walked into our local branch intent on buying Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire or maybe The Monkey Wrench Gang. They had neither. As I combed the shelves looking for my next adventure-read I saw something new. I picked up A Child’s Walk in the Wilderness, scanned a few pages and made my way to the register with my prize. Within the first 20 pages I was hooked…for an obvious reason. When the author’s 7 year old son had said, “Let’s keep going”, this father had the courage to say yes.
Though by far the most compelling, this was certainly not the only reason I was sucked in. A Child’s Walk is a great piece of writing. This isn’t Molyneaux’s first rodeo. He makes his living by his craft, having previously authored two books: The Doryman’s Reflection and Swimming in Circles as well as writing for the NY Times and other publications. All this I borrowed from the back cover, but even without that info, his obvious skill shines. Instead of the typical linear narrative I’ve come to expect from books in this genre, this tale, like the hike itself, often folds back on itself, revisits significant moments and takes side trails for reflection and contemplation. The author, whose marriage was struggling at the time of the journey, holds little back. At moments raw in his honesty, you feel as if a friend is spilling his heart. He doesn’t try to put a pretty face on the abrasiveness of hurting people, including his own. Balancing this transparency is the wonder, curiosity and infectious, adventurous spirit of his son, Venado. It’s a joy to watch as a father who brought his little boy to the wilderness in order to educate him is educated by his little boy.
“This is why we are leaving now, my son and I, to go off into the mountains and walk the forests for days on end, to watch spring come and feel its warmth, to howl in the wilderness and remember possibilities.”
These words resonate deeply within me. In fact the Manifesto from which they are excerpted (page 34) itself gives voice to the very same cry from my own spirit. Molyneaux seizes upon McKaye’s concept of the Barbarian Utopia. It becomes for he and his son, not a mere literary device but a philosophy of living…a way of life…a way to life. Returning to wilderness to re-discover the life that “civilization” has stunted into mere existence. Did it work? Well, you’ll have to read the book for yourself.
A father and his 8 year old boy take on the challenge of the Appalachian Trail. The author’s evident writing skill is enhanced by quotes from Benton McKaye and complemented by his son’s pencil drawn illustrations. One of my favorite AT reads ever. I didn’t want it to end. Highly recommend.
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