On Trails: An Exploration

“On Trails: An Exploration” by Robert Moor is on my reading list now, I think, but I may wait for a few more reviews before digging in as some of them are not so good. Not that I let reviews dictate my bucket list of books to read, but I’m too busy to explore a trail I might regret. An excerpt of synopsis is below:

“On Trails” is an engaging blend of travelogue, sociology, history and philosophy that might be summed up as a meditation on the centrality of trails to animal and human life…Moor starts off in Newfoundland, where he goes to have a look at what are thought to be the world’s oldest trails, left some 565 million years ago by primitive creatures called Ediacarans but discovered only eight years ago along the island’s coastline. Moor’s scientific informant speculates that the fossilized Ediacaran trails memorialize the creatures’ efforts to regain perches from which they’d been dislodged by waves. “The first animals to summon the strength to venture forth,” Moor writes, “may simply have wanted to go back home.” But since a trail implies that someone other than its maker might want to follow it, Moor ultimately decides that the Ediacaran spoors don’t make the cut. Each recorded journey was self-contained — a kind of filmstrip of an animal on the go but not really a trail.

Kate Tuttle’s Boston Globe review: here

Part natural history, part scientific inquiry, but most of all a deeply thoughtful human meditation on how we walk through life, Moor’s book is enchanting. He talks with paleontologists studying the world’s oldest fossil trails, and biologists pondering the exquisite delicacy of an elephant’s foot, which allows it to detect distant thunder, and thereby lead the way toward water. Even more fascinating, if sometimes troubling, is Moor’s examination of the human relationships to trails, how history and culture influence our understanding of the land, whether we view it as a resource to conquer, a wilderness to fear, or a treasure to protect. “Walking creates trails,” Moor writes. “Trails, in turn, shape landscapes. And, over time, landscapes come to serve as archives of communal knowledge and symbolic meaning.”

Joseph Bottum’s Washinton Free Beacon review gives me pause, because I know the “type,” and I’m not likely to want to waste my time for that type and typing:

The problem is that Moor can’t quite keep up the charm, no matter how hard he tries. Too often, the careful winsomeness cracks like a forced smile on the face of someone whose nature is to scowl, and what shines through at various points in the book is the author’s overwhelming scorn. His scorn for previous nature writers. His scorn for everyone who does not share exactly his shade of environmentalism. His scorn for casual hikers who haven’t completed the treks that he has. His scorn even for his readers: Robert Moor just doesn’t like you and me very much. He thinks we’re dilettantes, and only real hikers—only people like him, and, in truth, not very many of them—should have a say about what nature is…Mostly though, a sense of wonder might have given the author the humility to forego the sneer that leaves On Trails a book that you’ll only want to like, instead of actually, you know, liking it.

David Ebner’s The Globe and Mail review

Last, but not least, Amazon has a summary of review bites, and reader reviews here.

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