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Coming Out Of The Woods: The Solitary Life…

Coming Out Of The Woods: The Solitary Life Of A Maverick Naturalist

by Wallace Kaufman

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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0738202584, Hardcover)

In the late 1960s, swept up in the spirit of the times, young literary scholar Wallace Kaufman banded with friends to purchase 330 acres of North Carolina forest and found their version of utopia--a low-impact, covenant-heavy development that their rural neighbors would come to call "Hippie Town." Kaufman's utopia fell apart, as such places tend to do, under the usual pressures, but he stayed in the woods, eventually losing his academic job but finding plenty of other work to do as a sometime builder and land appraiser. His tales of how to go about making a home in the backcountry may give would-be back-to-the-landers pause, but they're certainly instructive and full of useful details. (Who knew that "the average small house requires over 50,000 nails," or that a builder hammering by hand would need to devote nearly two weeks to driving those nails in?) Kaufman is a keen observer of the ways of nature, discussing the natural history of trees, the habits of flying squirrels and copperheads, and the relentless cycle of life and death. An evident conservationist, he also finds room for extractive activities such as logging, mining, and hunting, and he argues for individual ownership of the land, maintaining that "the world's greatest environmental tragedies are largely on public lands or lands to which no one has a secure title or protection for a claim."

At times Kaufman falls into cantankerousness, grumbling at urban environmentalists who, he holds, unduly romanticize life in the wilds--"No one," he writes, "lives happily ever after alone in a wild place"--and taking potshots at the likes of Henry David Thoreau, who lived in his famed woodland cabin for only a fraction of the time that Kaufman lived in his. These ill-tempered lapses, which read like afterthoughts meant to attract controversy, don't detract too badly from the rest of Kaufman's generally easygoing memoir, which, all in all, is a worthy addition to the library devoted to country life. --Gregory McNamee

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:15:19 -0400)

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