Old Marlborough Road: A Journey Into Wonder

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9780944072165: Old Marlborough Road: A Journey Into Wonder

Book by Wolgemuth, Ken

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From the Back Cover:

"We were soaked and covered with mud--and we didn't care. The rain stops for no one; the rain demands acceptance. And a warm rain in a green wood invites a glorious irresponsibility." With perception and humor, Ken Wolgemuth offers a personal mythology: the journey of one explorer on disused roads. Through his subtle discoveries--from the falling of a leaf to the scratchings of a beetle in the underbrush--we are invited to reflect on our place in nature. Wolgemuth, a Pennsylvania naturalist, reaches across the years to remember himself as a child, awestruck by nature, thrilled with his own potential and with the unsolved mysteries of the world around him. This reunion of the individual with the experience of wonder brings a perception of nature all too often overshadowed by scientific analysis. THE OLD MARLBOROUGH ROAD shows that nature, seen truly, is "at once the stuff of science and of dreams."

"Ken Wolgemuth has followed the paths of Thoreau, Krutch, and Dillard and found a place of his own. There is poetry here--what Keats called 'the poetry of earth'--and there is quiet celebration. THE OLD MARLBOROUGH ROAD is certain to be enjoyed by all lovers of good nature writing." --John Murray, editor, -- The Islands in the Sea

"In prose of rare eloquence, Ken Wolgemuth invites us to smell the leaf mold, to feel the night wind, to savor the sunset--and in so doing, to regain our faith in ourselves." --Howard Ensign Evans, author -- Life on a Little-Known Planet and Wasp Farm

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

epigraph: If with fancy unfurled / You leave your abode, / You may go round the world / By the Old Marlborough Road. --Henry David Thoreau

Introduction: There is an old photograph in front of me. It is the photograph of a mountain road, a dirt track overhung by trees and disappearing, just up ahead, into the haze of a summer afternoon. In the foreground is a boy, three years old. Farther along the road, his back to the camera, stands a young man. The man, standing tall, gazes up and ahead, where sunlight is blazing through the treetops; the boy, stooping, stares at a rock.

This photograph has become symbolic of my life. I seem these days to be standing in the same relation to my peers and the world at large as to my father in that old picture. Humankind, the light of tomorrow in its collective face, is conquering disease, probing the depths of the atom, and preparing for the colonization of the stars. Meanwhile I kneel alone, in some remnant of forest, intent upon the comings and goings of beetles.

To those who have seen me only at home or at work, my life must seem the model of normality. I manage to carry out from day to day the duties of loving husband, doting father, conscientious son, and loyal employee, but there is a large part of me that has grown unfit to play any kind of productive or responsible role in the modern world.

Left to my own devices, given a spare moment or two, I tend to gravitate toward some green and growing place, be it a park or a playground or a local woodlot. There I can be found staring up into trees, poking about in puddles or worming my way through thickets. I tend to move slowly and stop often, to pick up rocks and dig around under rotting logs. More than once, parents have clutched at their children and hustled them in a wide semicircle around me as I knelt by a trail, prodding the carcass of some dead animal with a stick.

On my walks I am apt to present a raggedy appearance. I often go out unshaven, in mismatched, tattered clothes, knowing that nature will not mind and forgetting that humanity is often less generous. Emerging from the woods, bathed in sweat, with spider webs trailing from my ears, ticks creeping up my pantlegs, or frog slime smeared across my palms, I am liable to startle those who have come out into nature merely to picnic or take a bit of exercise. I like to think of myself as a naturalist of high purpose, an explorer of the close-at-hand, if you will. But I am fundamentally and forever a straggler.

I have come to accept and even cherish this role. The straggling gazelle may be struck down by the cheetah, but there are those of us who prefer the cheetah to the herd. Besides, if there are dangers in lagging behind one's fellows, there are also compensations.

For I have come to realize that the mountain walks I took with my father were my first steps along another, less substantial road--a road with no beginning and no end; a road not appearing on any map; a road to be discovered primarily by those who travel alone. This road is not confined to a particular place or a particular time. I have since encountered it in leafy glades filled with the rush of water, and on dark ridges under icy winter skies. I have traced it through the backyards of small towns at twilight, and glimpsed it deep in the gleaming eye of an insect. This road is marked not by milestones but by moments, evanescent instants when the earth is revealed for what it is; when the commonplace takes on a radiant significance; when, in turning my head to the distant thunder, I feel the lurching globe suddenly catching me by the heels to whirl me through the starlit depths of space and the infinite reaches of time.

Of course these moments never last. The enchantment is soon broken. The workaday world crashes through and the road vanishes in the tall grass once again. But its hold on me is strong, and there is always the possibility of finding it again. On dark days, when the undersides of clouds are shredded on the hilltops, and the waters ripple under a capricious, cool breeze, I walk with a sense of expectation, knowing that anything might happen, that at any moment I might round a corner and see, stretching off into the mist, that weedy track--that road where things appear in their proper proportions; where the hubbub of the crowd and the lights of the city fade away, and where, in the caw of a crow or the bend of a branch, one may find ample reason for remaining here, for going on.

This book is a montage of moments on that road; a patchwork quilt sewn of the vagrant thoughts occasioned by vistas along the way.

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Wolgemuth, Ken
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