Foreword Reviews

American Wild

Explorations from the Grand Canyon to the Arctic Ocean

2016 INDIES Winner
Gold, Adventure & Recreation (Adult Nonfiction)

“Call me a bigamist, if you like,” writes Michael Engelhard, a wildlife biologist and consummate storyteller whose passion for two vastly different American landscapes, separated by twenty-five hundred miles, has made him kin to those migratory creatures whose needs demand an equally peripatetic existence.

Engelhard, who calls himself “a vagrant by inclination and training” and a Luddite who neither drives nor owns a phone, is in love with the high desert of the Four Corners and the Colorado Plateau; with the American far north, Alaska, and the Arctic Refuge. He is addicted to landscapes defined by absences, to places that “streams, snow geese and caribou cross without passports”: “Long sightlines, the lack of dense forests or human populations, both in the Arctic and the Southwest set my heartstrings to humming,” he writes.

Honest to a fault, Engelhard doesn’t romanticize his experience of hiking Glen Canyon: “Blackbrush, locust, agaves, and carnivorous limestone gouged my forearms and shins,” he writes. “My knees and lower back ached, embedded spines festered, and the pack’s hip-belt left plum-colored bruises.” Yet he also writes of how the days could shine “robin’s egg blue, shimmering uniformly, like pearls on a string,” and of the delight he took in a “custard-colored scorpion.” He reevaluates his place in the food chain when attacked by fierce and prolific Alaskan mosquitoes and writes of two days in a tent, “whopped by wind like a helicopter”; of the “Iditabike,” a two-hundred-mile race requiring pepper spray to ward off wolves; of the joy of paddling a solitary kayak through nature’s deep silence; and of “light dense and golden as mead.”

Thoroughly at home in these wild places and among their creatures, Engelhard is a worthy guide across thresholds that can provoke profound, irrevocable change.

Reviewed by Kristine Morris

Disclosure: This article is not an endorsement, but a review. The publisher of this book provided free copies of the book to have their book reviewed by a professional reviewer. No fee was paid by the publisher for this review. Foreword Reviews only recommends books that we love. Foreword Magazine, Inc. is disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

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