Lovely Labor Day holiday yesterday, plenty of quality time with the family, the grill, the pool, the hammock, Hume, and the Redford/Nolte version of “A Walk in the Woods” at the cineplex. The script didn’t take too many liberties with Bill Bryson’s smart and witty prose, the film was beautifully shot in Appalachia, and my take-away folds nicely into this afternoon’s message in Happiness class: there’s more to a life well-lived than being comfortable, the journey of life is unpredictable, and so we go.
Early on, Katz (Nolte) asks”Are you happy?” Bryson (Redford) says “What the hell kind of question is that?” He never answers that question, but eventually demonstrates the more important point: ultimate well-being requires some effort, some discomfort along the way, and some doubt. But if you don’t quit, you can go home when you’re ready.
So now I want to read the book again, of course. I’m a bit worried about that obnoxious and chatty know-it-all girl they ditched.
“I have long known that it is part of God’s plan for me to spend a little time with each of the most stupid people on earth, and Mary Ellen was proof that even in the Appalachian woods I would not be spared. It became evident that she was a rarity.”
I don’t particularly want to walk the AT myself, except in bits and pieces, or imaginatively. But Bryson does reaffirm my commitment to ambulation in general.
“I know a man who drives 600 yards to work. I know a woman who gets in her car to go a quarter of a mile to a college gymnasium to walk on a treadmill, then complains passionately about the difficulty of finding a parking space. When I asked her once why she didn’t walk to the gym and do five minutes less on the treadmill, she looked at me as if I were being willfully provocative. ‘Because I have a program for the treadmill,’ she explained. ‘It records my distance and speed, and I can adjust it for degree of difficulty.’ It hadn’t occurred to me how thoughtlessly deficient nature is in this regard.”
Every twenty minutes on the Appalachian Trail, Katz and I walked farther than the average American walks in a week. For 93 percent of all trips outside the home, for whatever distance or whatever purpose, Americans now get in a car. On average, the total walking of an American these days – that’s walking of all types: from car to office, from office to car, around the supermarket and shopping malls – adds up to 1.4 miles a week…That’s ridiculous.”
And what did the experience do for Bryson?
“I got a great deal else from the experience. I learned to pitch a tent and sleep beneath the stars. For a brief, proud period I was slender and fit. I gained a profound respect for the wilderness and nature and the benign dark power of woods. I understand now, in a way I never did before, the colossal scale of the world. I found patience and fortitude that I didn’t know I had. I discovered an America that millions of people scarcely know exists. I made a friend. I came home.”
Loved this scene.
But I think you can be curious and Big Picture, both. And read books, “TV for smart people.” And watch just a little TV.
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