Within/Without, the Wild

This weekend, while managing to get in some hiking on the Buckseller Trail in Pennsylvania and on Dryden Hill behind my house, I also finished reading a new book by Walt McLaughlin called Cultivating the Wildness Within. dscn9649

This 173 page work (offered by Amazon Books and by the publisher, Red Dragonfly Press, 307 Oxford St., Northfield, Minnesota 55057, for $16 postpaid) was thoroughly enjoyable. Although I’ve been a long-time friend of this talented writer and small-press publisher, I say here what I want to say, without having been asked or having been paid (unfortunately) to say it.

As the author, McLaughlin, states it, this book is “a deeply personal collection of interwoven essays that starts in the Alaskan bush then progresses through two decades of wildness found in nature, those close to me, and myself.”dscn9637

In “Wild Encounters,” the first section of the book, we find the author’s conversational narrative reflecting on various subjects ranging from a solo camp-out in the wilds of Alaska to roughing it with his wife and/or grandkids in his home state of Vermont. In between, we get stories from his thru-hikes on the Northville-Placid Trail in the Adirondacks of New York and on the 100 Mile Wilderness in Maine. All of it, philosophically and practically, is born from the experience of wilderness and the blissful freedom that arises when the seeker takes a chance with nature.dscn9643

It was fun to contemplate this book as I struck out alone in the Susquehannock State Forest in northern PA this weekend, then did another snowy climb on Dryden Hill behind my home. Near the house, I watched in rapt amazement as a golden eagle soared lazily in circles overhead, allowing me to see the rusty-colored plumage of its fan-shaped tail and its great dark body. Ten minutes into my observation, I watched the fading speck that was an eagle disappear from view at the height of winter clouds.dscn9654

What majesty, I thought, what freedom, as seen from the perspective of a limited human body. Whether experiencing a one-on-one relationship with a special locale, sensing what it must be like to soar with a raptor, or finding a new galaxy in the privacy of a 4.5-inch reflecting telescope, McLaughlin’s book points the way for us to incorporate or to rediscover what’s been there all along– the pulse of wildness and the wonders of this life.

There’s even an essay called “Gone Fishing” whereby the author relates the start of his angling interests as a young kid learning how to toss a worm and bobber. “Mom told me that fishing was all about being patient, but I soon figured out that there was more to it than that. Much more.” He learned that nature wasn’t meant to be objectified but to be embraced.dscn9668

When McLaughlin’s wife gave him a fly rod for his fortieth birthday, his evolution as an angler took an unprecedented step. Learning to become a catch-and-release fly angler took some doing at first. [At this point in my reading of the book, I found myself surprised and humbled to discover the following information…]

McLaughlin, the fly-fishing neophyte, joined yours truly for a camp-out in the wilds of Pine Creek and Slate Run near my home. Read on…

“Franklin and I pitched a tent on a flat piece of ground next to a small stream that emptied into Pine Creek. In the evenings we hunkered over a small campfire, sharing a flask of whiskey while telling each other fishing stories. During the day we plied the waters above and below our camp for trout… I hooked a small brook trout while dragging a stonefly through a pool in a manner not unlike spin fishing…dscn9671

“The ultra sensitive fly rod in my hand seemed like more trouble than it was worth. But then we came upon a quiet pool where tiny, slate blue mayflies were hatching early in the afternoon. The trout rose to our tiny offerings of feather and thread with a vengeance, unlike anything I’d ever seen before. That was my come-to-Jesus moment as a fly fisherman. I haven’t been the same since.”

My influence on McLaughlin’s “cultivation of the wild” is truly minor and beside the point, considering the context of innumerable influences happily related in this book. Although I’ve also written and shared some Walt McLaughlin stories in my book River’s Edge, the great influences of the author’s cultivation are as disparate and diverse as his friends and family, his wrestling with the “madness of civilization,” his ponderings of the “impossible cosmos,” in addition to those incalculably significant wild urges that would come to him on and off the trail.dscn9676

Even the unlikely aspects of walking on the streets of Paris, France contributed to the appreciation and nurturing of the wild.

Our friendship and our business relationships aside, I recommend this book if you’re in need of literary companionship or if you’re simply curious about the possibilities that are offered.

In the quiet and solitude of the Dryden Hill summit this afternoon, I listened to the hoarse calling of several ravens, and watched them soar and gambol on the wind. I “read them” as I did a golden eagle just an hour before. Together, the birds appeared to me like a page from Walt McLaughlin’s book.dscn9665

golden, greenwood, ny

golden, greenwood, ny


About rivertoprambles

Welcome to Rivertop Rambles. This is my blog about the headwaters country-far afield or close to home. I've been a fly-fisher, birder, and naturalist for most of my adult life. I've also written poetry and natural history books for thirty years. In Rambles I will mostly reflect on the backcountry of my Allegheny foothills in the northern tier of Pennsylvania and the southern tier of New York State. Sometimes I'll write about the wilderness in distant states, or of the wild places in the human soul. Other times I'll just reflect on the domestic life outdoors. In any case, I hope you enjoy. Let's ramble!
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20 Responses to Within/Without, the Wild

  1. Brent says:

    Congrats to Walt on a book that looks great and touches on the personal attraction to wild spaces that so many of us feel. The pictures accompanying the review are appropriately symbolic of the great wild spaces that can be found near home (if we’re lucky!).

  2. Thanks Brent. I was hoping the pictures correlated well enough.

  3. Bob Stanton says:

    First, let me tell you that I’m a bit jealous, having never been lucky enough to see a golden eagle. The bald eagle, at least around here, with the Allegheny and the reservoir so near have become (dare I say it) commonplace, as if the magnificent creature could be termed such. And I will second your praise for Mr. McLaughlin’s work – reading his essays and narratives make me wish I was tramping along beside him.

    • Bob, Thank you also for supporting W.M.’s book. As with others from the author, it’ll put you right back on the trail. As for the golden, keep your eyes open because, as rare as we have learned that the species is here in the East, I’ve seen them every year since 1993. I’m lucky in that there’s a ridge/corridor near home that the bird seems to follow on migration every fall and spring. What it’s doing here in early Feb. is anybody’s guess.

  4. plaidcamper says:

    Thank you for the recommendation. I’m currently enjoying “River’s Edge” and once I step away from those rivertops, will certainly track down a copy of Walt McLaughlin’s book – your piece has hooked me. And as Brent has said, you’ve included wonderful photographs to accompany the review. Beautiful!

    • Thank you so much, Mr. PC. Although I know you don’t fish, you are a hiker and a man of the natural world, so I know you’ll appreciate these works that stretch out on the “trails beyond.” We more than appreciate your support!

  5. GRANDPA MEL says:

    Walt, sure sounds like a great book to review, read, and look at some great pictures. Thanks for sharing this with us who may not be familiar with the author……….
    I was going to the Library on Saturday morning this past week, and, sitting high in a tall group of trees near the library entrance was a Golden Eagle! Darn, did not have a camera with me that would have done this magnificent bird justice.

    • Thank you, too, Mel. And I’m glad you had an excellent opportunity to witness the presence of this regal bird. Although they are much more common in the West (Colorado, etc.) than in the East, to see one is always “golden.”

  6. boristoronto says:

    Sounds like a hell of a book. The notion that nature need to be objectified but to be embraced, is really a strong one. I find that is lacking in many. Also loved your use of the come to Jesus moment in reference to fishing,

  7. Thanks Walt, I’m ready for another book. And while I’m thinking about mentors, thanks for the long distance mentoring.

  8. loydtruss says:

    After reading this post I felt I was hiking there with you while relating the words in McLaughlin’s book in tune with every step you and I made. Thanks for sharing a great post!!

  9. Doug says:

    Great post Walt. I know very little about Walt McLaughlin’s work, other that
    he comes highly recommended by someone I really trust. Very nice work man.

    • Thanks Doug. Hope things are going well with you. Any poetry or photo time?

      • Doug says:

        Actually yes Walt. I’m writing pretty much every day. Same with my photos. Just got my Canon back. Had the sensor cleaned on it. I can’t wait to get out and put it back into service again. Thanks for asking brother.

  10. Sounds good, Doug. Onward!

  11. Another great read. Thanks for helping me feel like I’ve been out fishing a lot more than I have lately. I’ve always enjoyed the friendships that both angling and writing can lead to. You never know when you’ll turn up in a story.

  12. Often we never know till we’re there. Thanks Douglas.

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