June 23, 2013

Author Q &A: Highly motivated

In his new book, Hallowell's John Gibson revisits some Henry David Thoreau hikes – and tells readers how they can experience the same peaks today.

By TOM ATWELL, Special to the Maine Sunday Telegram

(Continued from page 1)

The second trip to Mount Washington that got him down into Tuckerman's Ravine was certainly a botanical experience, to see how many of the botanical species that he and his companions had listed that he could find. Then, of course, he sprained his ankle, but the whole party still found all the plants that they had listed.

He must have been a strong man, despite the fact that he had advanced tuberculosis all his adult life and died from it in his 45th year. He seemed to cover ground at great speed. 

Q: How do you think Thoreau would view opportunities to hike and climb mountains today?

A: He saw the danger that people would lock up (the) land for commercial purposes and the kinds of estates and hotels for the wealthy that had even then sprouted up on and around mountains like Monadnock.

He was also a walker who cut across farms and woodlots, and he knew the land better than the owners, but he knew they might close off the land in a way so he couldn't walk across the properties.

He did not want to see the landscape radically changed. On several mountains like Monadnock, Greylock and Wachusetts, there has been preservation of a sort where they have removed the structures and let the mountains go back to their former selves. 

Q: I believe that all of the hikes in the book are in some sort of a park?

A: We can certainly show many examples, particularly on the most important mountains, of acts to prevent them from being locked up in private ownership. Many of these mountains, even small ones, are protected now. That is something good that we have done. And with the trail networks, we tend to concentrate use so they are unlikely to be damaged any further.

I think Thoreau would be horrified if he saw some of the ski areas, but what can you do? Wachusett is 25 percent ski area, but the rest of the mountain is pretty well protected. 

Q: Do you think people making these hikes will feel closer to Thoreau after doing them?

A: I would hope so, but that will be up to each person. You can use the books simply as a guide to retracing his routes and see what he saw, which in many cases is not radically changed. Some can use it at a deeper level. The book is full of his observations on the world and certainly can be an entry to going back to reading those observations, particularly in the journals, which are rich with his comments on everyday life.

He provides an opportunity to slow down and perhaps think more deeply, of what making commitments to leading a life that does less damage to the environment and as much as possible walking lightly on the earth.

Tom Atwell is a freelance writer living in Cape Elizabeth.  He can be contacted at 767-2297 or at:



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