In the silence of the wild, amid the chatter of birds and brooks and leaves rustled by some unknown thing, truth eeks through the safety net we build around ourselves. It wasn't blue skies or gentle breezes that lured Kurt Hoelting back to nature's breast. It was a yearning for honesty, found only on the loneliest and most beautiful pathways, about our impact on the Earth, and what it would really feel like to do something about it.
"The Circumference of Home: One Man's Yearlong Quest for a Radically Local Life" certainly details an adventure. Backpacking, canoeing, kayaking, climbing mountains and visiting Zen temples hardly meshes with the idea of staying at home. Hoelting is an unusually busy man, and he has a crafty way of sharing his explorations with others. His memoirs will thrill nature lovers and inspire travel enthusiasts to root out the last of the treasures surrounding their own homes. More than that though, "The Circumference of Home" challenges us to look deeper, and to see the real world around us so that we may change for the better.
It's easy to ignore problems in the course of a day, a week, a year, even 10 years. Hoelting, for instance, grew up in Puget Sound. He was a fisherman by the age of 12, though he wouldn't do so commercially until much later. As a fisherman and wilderness guide, his concern for the environment was not superficial. If nothing else, he depended on it for a living, and to take care of his wife and children.
So it was surprising for him to walk a few miles from his door, near roads he was used to passing every day, and see the destruction that he hadn't seen before. He passed riverlets too used up and polluted to support the fish that depended on them. He stumbled across trails erased by the torrential flooding that many believe is caused by global warming.
Hoelting's uniquely intimate knowledge of the area brings something special to his writing. Over a span of five decades, he's watched these rivers and studied the wildlife. Firsthand, he's seen it changing. There's a reason the Washington native wrote off his car for a year and dedicated to staying within 62 miles (100 kilometers) of home. He knew he couldn't change the world without first changing how he impacted it himself.
After sacrificing a year of his life, including his income, Hoelting has arrived at a new truth: We do not have the luxury of time. We need to make changes today. Those changes may be inconvenient at times, but they are manageable and they will improve your life.
If someone like Hoelting, whose day-to-day life had him jet-setting around the country, could make the change for a year, those of us whose day-to-day travels exist within a 5-mile circumference of home fare much better. Most of us wouldn't have to give up our hobbies or income. The inconvenience of depending on public transportation, biking or walking would move more quickly into the humdrum of routine.
"The Circumference of Home" is a fascinating story. It unfolds from the first soggy steps of a carless man in a winter-bred rainstorm to paddling a buoy ashore a private beach. Hoelting brings a whole new meaning to the phrase, "Bloom where you're planted" with this captivating tale of a man's yearlong quest to reacquaint himself with the beauty of his homeland, and make a dent in his personal oil dependence.
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