The manifold joys and occasional jolts of nine outdoor pursuits, as perceived with generous insight and sentiment by the author of Aging (1983), The Hare and the Tortoise (1986), and several others. "This is a book of nonmusical lovesongs," writes Barash (Psychology/U. of Washington), and indeed his odes sing of a soul made rapturous by nature. Occasionally, the song is ecologically strident (on gardening: "[I] would sooner give up my garden altogether than build it on a rotten foundation of insecticides, herbicides, fungicides, or other poisons"). More often, though, Barash warbles right in tune, conjuring up the very experience of: gardening, beachcombing, stargazing, birdwatching, chopping wood, cross-country skiing, backpacking, mountain climbing, and horseback riding ("Horses are immensely powerful creatures, and when cantering, this power surges up from the animal's muscular hind end, passing in a forceful wave through the seat of the rider"). Each essay combines memoir, opinion, humor, and anecdotal and textbookish information to offer an inspiring introduction to an outdoor pursuit; the essay on "Chopping Wood," for example, ranges from meditation on wood as primal substance to the best way to split wood (with a poem by Robert Frost for accent) to the ethics of chopping wood to a castigation of chain saws. And while most of this is sunny and bursting with life, Barash's songs do hit some minor chords, particularly in the later essays on backpacking and mountain climbing, when he tells of the death of friends and others in the suddenly indifferent outdoors. A bit precious—Barash's garden, for instance, is a world of "distraught" pea pods—but the author's enthusiasm is infectious: despite the grip of his prose, it's a rare reader who won't be tempted to put down the book in favor of exploring the great outdoors.
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