Changing Paths Discussion Schedule - October 16-November 12, 2011

Bill Sherwonit, author and
WILD READ moderator
Photo credit: Helene Feiner
Changing Paths: Travels and Meditations in Alaska's Arctic Wilderness by Bill Sherwonit

Oct. 16-22 – Part 1, A Geologist in Alaska: Two Life-Changing Discoveries. During a middle-aged solo trek through the heart of Alaska’s Central Brooks Range, author Bill Sherwonit reflects on his geology days, the influence of Bob Marshall’s wilderness writings and legacy, and a “eureka” moment that helped to transform his life (though, as with Aldo Leopold, the change occurred slowly, over a period of years). WILD READERS may wish to consider their own evolving relationship with wilderness and also the way that a place, person, book, or idea can change a life, set a person on a new and perhaps unexpected path. Was there ever a time or circumstance in your life when you realized, with new clarity, that your career or lifestyle or behaviors conflicted with your core values and required new directions? And did you ever feel a sense of being “called,” whether to a place, a vocation, or a different way of being in the world?

Oct. 23-29 – Part 2, Connecticut Roots: A Sheltered Christian Childhood and a Place of Refuge. There’s plenty of evidence that childhood experiences greatly influence a person’s future (i.e., adult) beliefs, values, and actions, the ways that we relate to our humans and the more-than-human world. Thus the importance of early connections to nature. Like Bob Pyle, Sherwonit found magic and delight in wild places, in his case The Woods and The Swamp. But those wild playgrounds also provided refuge and relief from the “rules and demands of adults . . . from the tyranny of judgments” tied to his religion. What about as adults? Are there still wild places we can go for refuge, solace, and delight, for healing?

This part of the book also recounts two early guides, or mentors, one an uncle and the other an earth science teacher (though the author didn’t necessarily recognize them as such at the time). Yet for all that “Uncle Peach” taught Sherwonit, he also gave mixed messages about the value of other life forms, particularly fish. Some were “good,” others were “trash.” How can youngsters – or even adults – sort through behaviors, or opinions, that seem troubling, even wrong, when presented by people we respect and love? And how can we, as role models and mentors, be more aware of the messages we’re sending?  

Oct. 30-Nov. 5 – Part 3, Moving Deeper into Wilderness & Embracing Wildness Wherever We Live.
Among other things, this part of the book explores both the nature and idea of wilderness, the steps that led to the protection of the Central Brooks Range in Gates of the Arctic National Park, and the importance of both solitude and community. The author would love to know how other WILD READERS define (or experience) wilderness. If you’re the sort who is repeatedly lured back to a particular wilderness, what is the draw, the connection? And should we embrace and protect the “nearby wild” as firmly and fervently as we do such faraway wilderness areas as Gates? Is one more important or relevant than the other to modern lives? More to consider: what role does solitude play in your life? And how do you define “community”?

Nov. 6-12 – Epilogue: On the Necessity of Celebrating the Miraculous.
So much seems to be going wrong these days. We are in the midst of global warming, ocean acidification, species extinctions, overfishing, the continued persecution of wolves (and at least in Alaska, of bears), wars among ourselves, other horrifically violent acts against humans and non-human beings alike, a dysfunctional and exceedingly harmful culture. A person could spend his or her entire time advocating for wild nature, working and fighting for the Earth and its many oppressed and threatened non-human inhabitants (and oppressed humans as well). It’s easy to feel guilty for not doing enough. But for all that’s maddening and disheartening about our world, the author also argues “we humans need reminding that simply to be alive and part of this grand experiment – or whatever you wish to call it – is a mysterious and astonishing thing.” We need to take time to celebrate the miracle of life and actively embrace and participate in life’s wild glories. Sherwonit would love to get WILD READERS’ perspectives on such notions.

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