Escapist fantasies usually involve the open road, but Bernd Heinrich's dream was to focus on the riches of one small place--a few green acres along Alder Brook just east of the Presidential Mountains. The year begins as he settles into a cabin with no running water and no electricity, built of hand-cut logs he dragged out of the woods with a team of oxen. There, alone except for his pet raven, Jack, he rediscovers the meaning of peace and quiet and harmony with nature--of days spent not filling out forms, but tracking deer, or listening to the sound of a moth's wings.Throughout this year when "the subtle matters and the spectacular distracts," Heinrich brings us back to the drama in small things, when life is lived consciously. His story is that of a man rediscovering what it means to be alive.
Heinrich's tedious personal account of 12 long months holed up in the wilderness of western Maine is so didactic and self-involved that it makes the reader want to hightail it to the nearest strip mall, where people are at least what they seem. Heinrich (Ravens in Winter, 1989, etc.), a zoologist tired of paper pushing at the University of Vermont, retreats to the New England woods to see the world up close. He chops down trees, assembles a log cabin, digs a latrine, and plants vegetables. But for all his posturing, this hideaway for do-it-yourselfers is not so solitary or so rustic. A newspaper arrives at his mailbox daily (he claims it's necessary so that he can start his morning fire); and he installs a telephone and answering machine in his neighbors' outhouse. Most of Heinrich's days are spent watching his pet raven, Jack, eat the roadkill he has lovingly collected for the bird while fondly recalling meals of run-over muskrat and raccoon he himself consumed in college; calculating the number of seeds a young birch has to shed (2,415,000); creating endless lists of the colors of fall leaves ("light lemon yellow," "yellow with dot-sized red speckles," etc.); counting and counting the black cluster flies that invade his cabin (12,800, or "nine and a half cups full, level"); explaining how to prepare braised mice ("pull the skins off and the guts out" and throw them in a little olive oil); and making flatulent observations like "Life is not a spectator sport." Heinrich should have learned a lesson from the mountain men he calls his heroes: "tough men, who did not write books about their exploits, or even talk of them." Banality posing as self-knowledge. More boring than Walden. (Kirkus Reviews)
Number Of Pages: 272
Published: 8th November 1995
Dimensions (cm): 23.6 x 15.3 x 1.9
Weight (kg): 0.331