A biology professor’s memoir concerning maps, memory and the importance of the natural world.
Norment (Environmental Science and Biology/SUNY Brockport; Return to Warden’s Grove: Science, Desire, and the Lives of Sparrows, 2008, etc.) begins one dreary March day when, tired of grading papers, he pulled out a map of Mount Whitney, Calif., and began to ruminate about maps, boyhood, marriage, fatherhood and life in the outdoors. The author writes of his longtime passion for trails and highways and describes many experiences on the twisted, tangled trails in remote regions of North America and, eventually, of his life. Although an Edenic aura often glows around his accounts, the snake is present, too, in the form of a sexually abusive, alcoholic stepfather. Norment does not offer graphic descriptions of his boyhood trauma, but at various times the dark memories of abuse drip their poison on his prose. Roughly chronological (but with flashbacks), the narrative covers his boyhood wanderings in California, his childhood fascination with gas-station maps, his experiences following feral burros in Death Valley, his pleasant memories of working with Outward Bound and his hikes with his children and a lifelong friend, with whom he hiked, sans maps, in a remote area of Washington State. He writes eloquently about the allegorical aspects of maps and evinces a wide acquaintance with scientific and creative literature, alluding to Faulkner, Chabon, Vonnegut, Muir, Hugo, Shakespeare and many others.
A journey through life with a guide who knows the trail and its wonders and who delights in the unexpected vistas that elevation can offer.