Award-winning photojournalist and wilderness advocate Krista Schlyer was 28 years old, living in Washington, DC, and stuck in a disabling fog of grief after losing her husband to cancer when her best friend Bill—also her late husband's best friend—phoned and said, "We both need to get out of here. Way out."
He thought we should go out on the road, to all those national parks and wild lands, as many as we could get to for as long as we could manage to stay away. We'd go by car, sleep in a tent, eat cheap noodles and canned beans, whatever it took.
So the two bought a used Saturn station wagon (because it got good gas mileage and they could sleep in the back in a pinch), sold their respective belongings, and hit the road. With them they took Maggie, Schlyer's Corgi-Dachshund cross, the "cutest dog on the planet," who possessed a master nose for expensive cheese and an ability to charm anyone, even Bill.
Almost Anywhere, Schlyer's memoir of that year spent searching for "a place to be both broken and whole at the same time," is a wry and lyrical contribution to the classic American literature of road-trip stories. It is a portrait of numbing grief gradually thawed by moments of heart-stopping beauty: the eerie call of a loon from a north-country lake; the passage of a herd of bison almost close enough to touch, the huge animals supremely unfazed by human presence.
What lifts this tale above other journey stories is Schlyer's combination of honesty and humor, her ability to shift seamlessly from the grandeur of the places they visit to the mundane struggles of two humans with serious emotional baggage dealing with the less glamorous aspects of exploring America's wild places, from clouds of voracious mosquitoes to the chipmunk who stows away with them.
There are flaws in this memoir—an opening chapter that hops about in a way that is challenging to follow, subtitles that sometimes interrupt the flow, and an ending that seems a tad anticlimactic.
But these are far outweighed by Schlyer's soaring reach, from a lucid explanation of the Big Bang as a metaphor for loss and grief to wry asides in present tense contained in her perfectly ironic footnotes, such as these from Roosevelt-Campobello International Park on the Bay of Fundy, the place where, Schlyer notes, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, then a failed candidate for Vice-President, decided to pursue a career in pubic life at the urging of his wife Eleanor, despite his advancing paralysis and the discouraging counsel of FDR's powerful mother:
Note to self: This significant chapter in history underscores an important truth in life. Fate can run you over and leave you broken, and in general there is nothing you can do to avoid it. But the decisions you make while lying in a mangled heap of human hamburger upon the insidious off-ramp of destiny, those decisions are all your own. Note to reader: Please do not assume for one minute that the lessons of FDR's courage and fortitude have permeated my skull at this point in the journey.
How could any reader resist a story that pins you through the heart with its exquisite truths and also leaves you rolling on the floor laughing? Almost Anywhere is not perfect, but it is a great read.
Read an excerpt from this book.
Krista Schlyer is an award-winning conservation photographer and writer. She is a senior fellow at the League of International Conservation Photographers, and her work has been published by the BBC, the Nature Conservancy, High Country News, the National Geographic Society, and the National Audubon Society. She resides in the Washington, DC, metro area. Visit her website.
Check out our interview with the author of Almost Anywhere.
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