Nature writing. The author describes a number of trips he took with his wife into wilderness areas, deliberately going where travel was only on hiking trails, or by canoe. Each chapter describes one location (sometimes from multiple visits): the Border Lakes of Canada and Minnesota, Olympic National Forest in Washington state, the Virgin Islands and then contrasting Isle Royale (where to my disappointment they did not see a wolf), the Great Smoky Mountains, Alaska, Canyonlands in Utah, Sanibel Island off the Florida coast and Baja California. A bit different in locale are the chapter about a safari trip with his family in Africa, and a canoeing trip through canals in England. The part about Canyonlands is mostly about arguments that were going on at the time whether or not it should be made into a national park, and the final few chapters also switch focus- one is a brief look at how our views towards the wilderness has changed through history, and the value on keeping some wilderness untouched. At the end there is basic information on camping and canoeing, a brief list of their usual supplies, and pointers on getting started. Most of it though, is descriptions of landscape in the places they traveled, with glimpses of wildlife. My favorite part was very short- a few brief sentences describing how pelicans fished off a beach- I have watched them from Ocean Beach in San Francisco myself, and I was just as enthralled as this author, to see how they fold their bodies to dive into the sea so narrow and streamlined. I used to just stand and watch them. It was nice to be so vividly reminded of that.
When I read his plea for wildlife, I had to take note of how we’ve done in the 80 years since this book was published. I’m glad to say yes, we saved the whooping crane, California condor and Arabian oryx from extinction. Bighorn sheep and white-tailed gnu are no longer endangered. Other animals, not such a good record: Asiatic lions, mountain gorillas, and woodland caribou are still in trouble, various rhino species still very rare, polar bears are now endangered due to shrinking ice habitat (not from overhunting as was the case in this author’s time). I was a bit happy though, that none of the animals Brooks mentioned as being on the verge of disappearance, have actually done so yet.