By SUSANNE MARIE POULETTE
PART TWO: BILL McKIBBEN discusses WANDERING HOME: A LONG WALK ACROSS AMERICA’S MOST HOPEFUL LANDSCAPE
Bill McKibben is a leading environmentalist and New York Times Bestselling author who has written extensively on the dangers of global warming. His lengthy list of books include EAARTH, OIL AND HONEY, DEEP ECONOMY, and THE END OF NATURE which is considered to be the first book to warn the general population about climate change. He is the founder of the environmental organization 350.org, the first global, grassroots climate change movement. McKibben is the Schumann Distinguished Scholar in Environmental Studies at Middlebury College, a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the 2013 winner of the Gandhi Prize and the Thomas Merton Prize.
St. Martin’s Press calls WANDERING HOME “…one of his most personal books…Bill McKibben invites readers to join him on a hike from his current home in Vermont to his former home in the Adirondacks. Here he reveals that the motivation for his impassioned environmental activism is not high-minded or abstract, but as tangible as the lakes and forests he explored in his twenties, the same woods where he lives with his family today. Over the course of his journey, McKibben meets with old friends and kindred spirits… all in touch with nature and committed to its preservation. For McKibben, there is no better place than these woods to work out a balance between the wild and the cultivated, the individual and the global community, and to discover the answers to the challenges facing our planet today.”
Bill McKibben took the podium while chuckling that he would take less time with his reading so that his wife, Sue Halpern, and tail-wagging therapy dog Pransky, the darling of the audience, would have longer for their presentation. Before discussing his book, McKibben announced the People’s Climate March and invited all to join in the event. It will take place in New York City on September 21, while world leaders are present at the United Nations for a summit on the climate crisis. A link to the organization is provided below.
McKibben then read from WANDERING HOME, stopping occasionally to explain a point or add information. He stated that he spends a lot of time thinking about “bad things”—global climate change—but walking and experiencing the beauty of the landscape offers good counter examples. McKibben reverently described the extraordinary 360 degree view from the top of Mount Abraham. He went on to read the passage about “Mt. Abe,” including the perfect weather conditions that gifted him with seven rainbows at one time.
Having spent many childhood summers in the Adirondacks, I had some specific thoughts and questions regarding WANDERING HOME, which I presented to Bill McKibben:
SMP: I noticed that your route on this trek took you north and then west of the mining communities of Mineville and Witherbee in the town of Moriah, so the issues of exposed tailings piles in that area aren’t discussed. Do you address this issue in any other of your Adirondack writings?
BMcK: I don’t think directly, but it is a fascinating area. Amy Godine has written powerfully about that history. I drive through those towns pretty often, en route to Lake Placid from Vermont.
SMP: I enjoyed learning about forests in your book, but I’m not acquainted with much of the terminology of woodlots, logging, and forestry. Can you suggest a book for one to begin reading and learning more about the topic?
BMcK: I’d recommend reading Northern Woodlands magazine, which is remarkably good and accessible, and reading up on/talking with David Brynn of Vermont Family Forests, who is the kind and knowledgeable guru of the emerging new forestry movement.
SMP: How remarkable that John Davis lives in his cabin with no power, running water, or motor vehicle. Does he spend winter in the cabin, and if so, what means of transportation does he use when weather precludes biking?
BMcK: Well, John has married since and has a child. I’m not sure what his arrangements are at the moment. But my guess is that when it’s too snowy to bike he stays home, which seems like a sensible arrangement.
SMP: From his boyhood days, my grandfather had a favorite pine tree at the very top of what we called Lock Hill, which I believe, is actually Lock Mountain. So I was especially touched by the quote from the hand-lettered sign of 1845, hanging on a giant white pine tree and asking that it be spared. Do you have a favorite passage from Wandering Home?
BMcK: I think my favorite funny passage is about the hike out from Elk Lake to the bison farm, and my favorite sentimental passage is about the five or six rainbows I could see at once from the top of Mt. Abe as I looked out over the Champlain Valley. I’ll remember that one on my deathbed!
The Writers’ Loop wishes to thank Bill McKibben for participating in this interview, and Northshire Bookstore for bringing this distinguished author to meet his readers.
To learn more, follow the links to the following websites: billmckibben.com; 350.org; peoplesclimatemarch.org