Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Bryson & Katz

I just finished "A Walk in the Woods" by Bill Bryson. Why did I start crying? I think it had to do with them finishing. Bill Bryson and Steven Katz had set out to walk the Appalachian Trail (2200 miles) but they come to realize that finishing is not a definitive word.
Then again, it might not be about finishing as much as the changes that take place along the way. At the finish you take stock of what has happened. For Bill and Katz (as Bill refers to his companion throughout the book) there were many landmark moments when opinions, physical responses and relationships were reassessed. These two men are as unalike as a poem and an axe. In the beginning of the book Bryson describes Katz with a sharp pencil – there are few attributes that bring you to believe that this man is going to bring anything of worth to the journey. In short he was a liability. But a useful one since Bryson was literally afraid to be alone in the woods. At first, I was uncomfortable with their relationship. I didn’t like the way Bryson was always laughing at Katz’s stumbling stupidity. It made me remember a relationship that I have since absconded from. She repeatedly mentioned my sloppiness, my unattentiveness, my absent mindedness. It was all a source of great humour for her.
But, we all know that Bill is a brilliant writer and thus my suspicion that he was employing literary device was confirmed when Katz left the walk (and the book) to work for the summer. Many long chapters passed while I waited again for Katz to return (just as Bryson had so often described his waiting along the trail). I missed him, and something was missing from the narrative. I slogged through Bryson’s rants on conserving everything from trees to toads, believing that soon (maybe the next chapter) Katz would return and we’d get back to the trail for real.
Bryson needed Katz, he faltered in his walking, doing bits and pieces of the AT but never with the comfortable routine of the time spent on the trail with Katz. Bryson tips his hand as he describes the time on the Maine trail in the Hundred Mile Wilderness that the two become separated. His writing is understated to an extreme (but that is how writers express the largest and loudest emotional trauma). At times I felt the fear and panic rising in my own throat and wanted to scream at Bryson for his quiet words and description of his surroundings. What would I have done? So many decisions, only one right one. After experiencing what Bryson and Katz indicate might have been a miracle the two decide not to continue. They call it FINISHED. And they were both happy with that. I would suggest they stopped hiking the AT because they had found something much more important to them – each other. Last night, my theory was confirmed in my mind when I breezed past the dedication of the book. It goes like this, “To Katz, of course.”
So there you are, that’s why I cried, that’s why I was satisfied with the book.
When I write my book on the walk who will I dedicate it to?

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