In Praise of Paths

In Praise of Paths coverIn Praise of Paths: Walking through Time and Nature
Torbjørn Ekelund
translated by Becky L. Crook
Greystone Books (May 5, 2020), 175 pages
Kindle edition $11.99, Amazon hardcover $17.39

After a mishap one day, the author found himself in the hospital with a diagnosis of epilepsy. Under Norwegian law that meant he had to give up his driver’s license. So he turned his thoughts to walking.

Not that he hadn’t been walking before. He tells of his childhood and visits to the rural family cabin, where there was lots of walking to do. But after his diagnosis he really got serious about walking. He had a friend with whom he plotted walking adventures. One trip took them to a protected wilderness area just outside their hometown of Oslo. For some reason they chose to see how they might get along without maps or GPS, only following the sun. They found out that they weren’t as savvy as they thought they were.

Ekelund distinguishes between walking and running. He writes:

quoteA person who walks slowly sees much, and a person who walks quickly sees little. A person who is running as quickly as possible has their attention focused on their own body. Whereas the attention of a person walking slowly is aimed away from themselves, toward the world and everything outside.

He points out that for Friedrich Nietzsche, Charles Darwin, Søren Kierkegaard, and Virginia Woolf walking was a creative catalyst.

Ekelund does commit a sort of literary heresy within the canon of fantasy literature. He conflates The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy. He refers to The Lord of the Rings and says that it has the subtitle There and Back Again. He talks writes about how Bilbo returns home, the ring destroyed, to his normal life. There and Back Again is, of course, the subtitle of The Hobbit, not The Lord of the Rings. And it is Frodo, Bilbo’s nephew, in The Lord of the Rings whose adventures center on that ring of power. While Bilbo returns home after his adventures to his normal life, the Shire is not the same for Frodo and his company after the ring is destroyed. In fact, even humble Frodo is unwilling to give up the ring in the end and has to lose a finger in order for the ring to be destroyed. You may recall that the destruction of the ring meant the end of the Third Age of Middle Earth. Things were not the same. A quick reference check on Ekelund’s part could have allowed him to avoid this embarrassing confusion.

In Praise of Paths, however, evoked much in my own experience, so I can accept the Rings error. When we lived in Gilroy Terry and I used to go hiking at Uvas Canyon County Park in the Santa Cruz Mountains. (They’re actually hills, but that is the name of the range.) The book brought back memories of that magical spot. The park is a marvelous place with natural springs and streams. To get there you have to drive through a private Swedish community called Sveadal, a place where people live a much simpler lifestyle than in the Silicon Valley communities below.

Near the end of the book Ekelund writes about returning as an adult to see the mountain behind his grandparents’ property that he knew growing up. I grew up beneath the shadow of Mt. San Jacinto, as is obvious from this blog’s header images. When Terry and I bought our house here in Hemet in 2015 we discovered that we have an unobstructed view of the mountain from our front yard. That was a marvelous bonus as I returned to my hometown after forty-one years away.

In Praise of Paths is enjoyable reading. It certainly resonated with me.

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