I have just read the most wonderful, life-affirming book – My Everest: Thirty Years of San Diego Hiking (With Dogs!) by Martha Kennedy. You might think a story about 30 years of hiking the same trails might be a little boring. Not so. This is a grand love story; a tribute to the enduring relationship between one woman and her wilderness, encompassing the creatures of the Chaparral that watched over and befriended her, and the dogs – her faithful companions – who were always by her side.
For most of us, we no longer rely on the wilderness for our daily sustenance; instead we bend it to our busy purpose, and tame it to within an inch of its life. For many, untamed nature has no positive economic value or is a physical threat. Alternatively, as Martha encountered, many visitors to wilderness areas show little curiosity about their surroundings, instead treating it merely as a highway to ‘civilisation’. But for Martha, the real wilderness was in the city, where relationships were often superficial, ultra-competitive or damaging.
It’s funny how we yearn for the landscape of our youth, and when taken out of it, we constantly seek it in other places. As a born and bred Colorado girl, the wilderness areas of the Mission Trail Regional Park and the Mt Laguna region tempered this yearning within Martha, at least for a time. Martha invites the reader into her world where she becomes part of the chaparral ecosystem. And so did Martha’s dogs – rescue-dogs that no-one wanted, well, because they were wild and didn’t fit in. Her dogs were mostly primitive breeds or primitive-breed mixes, originally bred to work in the wilderness. The joy they experienced while out on the trail with Martha, was heart-warming to read about.
Martha’s time in the wilderness had a spiritual quality. However, the getting of wisdom is built on a lifetime of experiences and so takes time. At one point, Martha writes “…I’d more or less walked away from the whole “search,” [spiritual search] which, in my case, had never been very focused. I was reaching the conclusion that everything was probably fine, whether I got it or not. I tried to look at the trail as a trail, at hawks as hawks, the chance of seeing a cougar as a chance of seeing a cougar. I was beginning to get used to the idea that in life there are thing we “do” and things we “are”. Paying attention to the trail maybe all that was possible. I wasn’t there yet. I still looked for signs and metaphors. I had yet find the teacher who would help me with that, and a lot would happen in the meantime…”(52%) The irony was that all the signs and symbols were there aplenty, she just needed to be ready to see.
This book touched me deeply because I believe that ingrained within us all, is an instinctual need to be in, and of, the land. We are one. Everything and everyone on earth is descended from that first single cell that divided in the primordial sludge 3.8 billion years ago. So we go wrong when we are disconnected from nature, when we don’t respect it. The natural world will protect us, if we protect it. For many indigenous peoples around the world, “country” is their identity. I’ll use an Australian example because that is what I know. William Watson, Yiriman Cultural Boss, said this about his people’s connection to “Country”:
“When you on Country, you walk with a spring in your step, you walk with your head high, you not afraid of anything. In order to find yourself you have to get lost. Best place to get lost is Country.”
To Australian Aboriginal people, “Country” is more than just a piece of land, it is all the landforms that make up the country, and it is all the creatures that inhabit the land (or sea). Man does not own country, but, as a creature of the land, man belongs to country. It certainly gives a different perspective on being expelled into the wilderness. Almost completely surrounded by the city and suburbs, Martha’s small wilderness was a refuge for the animals within it, and it was her refuge too.
I commend this book to you. May you have as much joy reading it as I did.
For other reviews on the book, and how to purchase, see here.
Information Note: ‘My Everest’ came to my attention through Martha Kennedy’s blog. I did not receive a free copy of her book. My decision to read and review the book was purely my own.
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