Skip to main content
You have permission to edit this article.
Edit
Review: 'Within These Woods,' by Timothy Goodwin
AP

Review: 'Within These Woods,' by Timothy Goodwin

"Within These Woods," by Timothy Goodwin.

"Within These Woods," by Timothy Goodwin. (Riverfeet Press/TNS)

NONFICTION: Essays celebrate the joy and connections to be found in the deep woods.

"Within These Woods" by Timothy Goodwin; Riverfeet Press (242 pages, $16)

———

Timothy Goodwin, an associate professor of education at Bemidji State University, might have kept the brief, gemlike essays that make up "Within These Woods" to himself. They might have become a private journal, or the contents of a ringed binder in his family cabin for others to discover and treasure during nights by the fireplace.

Thankfully for us, they became this book. You can read it all at once, following the arc of Goodwin's time spent at a family cabin on Barker Lake in northern Wisconsin's Sawyer County from age 12 to his now grizzled status. Or you may prefer to peruse one of the three- or four-page essays here and there based on what intrigues you after your own day in the woods — the whitetail deer? The Cooper's hawk? The spring beauty and the wood anemone? That snapping turtle? The club moss, or the beaver, or the chipping sparrow, or the black crappie, or wild rice?

Goodwin's essays celebrate 45 creatures or plants. Each brief chapter is a full read by itself. He uses the fauna or flora he's focusing on as a window into the northern woods he's teaching us about. Each plant or animal fits tightly into that world, and is inextricable to our lives, and he tells us why.

Each essay is accompanied by a Goodwin illustration, charming and skilled. He includes short, contemplative poems he has written and revelatory quotes by great naturalists. And each essay ends with a leap from the particular science of the life form he's examining to a lesson we might ponder in our own, messier, human lives.

At its best, that approach is arresting, like the wee lesson at the end of an Aesop's fable. But there are times when the segue from the woods into Goodwin's wisdom feels a bit cloying, as if he tried too hard.

One where it works well is his chapter on the whitetail deer, where he explains why deer hunting is urgently important in a landscape now largely devoid of predators. The story of humans and deer is one of the starkest examples of why we must "tread as lightly as possible, for we do not even know with which step we will change an ecosystem," he writes.

Goodwin is at his thoughtful best when he reminds us what the Ojibwe or Dakota cultures, as well as European settlers' worldviews, made of the creatures and plants he celebrates. Then, he gently warns us why those life forms may disappear — habitat destruction, pollution, climate change. It is to his credit that he can gracefully combine such forceful thoughts in the space of three or four pages, over and over again, in varying ways.

All who spend time in the woods of Minnesota or Wisconsin will deeply appreciate this book.

But it is not a given that city dwellers will be persuaded to go into the woods by it. What, indeed, would persuade them? Perhaps it is best that they do not, the woods therefore being less trodden, though how wonderful it would be if every city child had the opportunity to spend a lot of time there to see what he or she might discover. Perhaps reading this book will lead to more such priceless forays.

0
0
0
0
0

Stay up-to-date on what's happening

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Related to this story

Most Popular

"Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol," a series that premiered on Peacock last week featuring ace symbologist Robert Langdon, represents another high point in the lucrative career of one of the bestselling mystery authors of all time. But it also serves as a clue in someone else's quest — that of his ex-wife, Blythe Brown. The show is among several projects embroiled in a court battle over the ...

NONFICTION: An ornery, broken-down, used-up man and an ornery, broken-down, used-up dog find each other. "The Speckled Beauty" by Rick Bragg; Alfred A. Knopf (238 pages, $26) ——— Those of us with city dogs (what Rick Bragg calls "fancy dog people") might be aghast to read about the life of Speck, the rambunctious, mostly untrained, free-ranging and always-spoiling-for-a-fight rescue dog that ...

MIAMI — When South Florida writer Brad Meltzer learned that a Pennsylvania school board had banned his books “I am Rosa Parks” and “I am Martin Luther King, Jr.,” he knew he couldn’t ignore it. “If you’re taking the lessons of Rosa Parks, you have to fight back,” said the creator of the Ordinary People Change the World series, which profiles historic figures including Abraham Lincoln, Frida ...

Her new book, "The Beatryce Prophecy," sprang from a rediscovered draft that she had abandoned after the death of her beloved mother. MINNEAPOLIS — In August 2018, Kate DiCamillo was in the office of her Minneapolis home, sorting through a decade's worth of old papers and manuscripts, when she happened upon a stunning discovery — the first 40 pages of a long-abandoned, long-forgotten novel. ...

FICTION: A deeply moving story about an astrobiologist and his young son, anguished by the state of the planet. "Bewilderment" by Richard Powers; W.W. Norton (288 pages, $27.95) ——— As he did in his Pulitzer Prize-winning "The Overstory" — which the Financial Times called a "Great American Eco-Novel" — Richard Powers takes up the life of the natural world and its suffering at human hands in ...

Nothing says spooky season like a new memoir from Cassandra “Elvira” Peterson, which contains a major revelation about her real-life identity. In “Yours Cruelly, Elvira: Memoirs of the Mistress of the Dark,” Peterson details a 19-year relationship with a woman named Teresa “T” Wierson — officially joining the LGBTQ+ community that had already long embraced her as a gay icon. Released Tuesday, ...

NONFICTION: A timely chance to think about freedom not as a state but a practice. "On Freedom" by Maggie Nelson; Graywolf Press (288 pages, $27) ——— Given that Maggie Nelson is known for expanding categories and defying the expectations of genre, it's little wonder, perhaps, that her latest book, the subtle yet wide-ranging "On Freedom: Four Songs of Care and Constraint," would take as its ...

FICTION: The second novel in Sarah Stonich's planned trilogy tells a tender tale of fishing, fresh air and grief. "Reeling" by Sarah Stonich; University of Minnesota Press (276 pages, $15.95) ——— After reading a Sarah Stonich novel, I want to go fishing. I want to sit in a boat at dawn and plop a surface Rapala between fallen logs and reel it in across calm water. In her latest novel, "Reeling" ...

Poet Amanda Gorman had her sights set on the White House long before it tapped her to help inaugurate President Joe Biden. Her own presidential aspirations started when she was just a hair into her second decade. “I remember being around 11 years old, and I was in class talking very passionately as I do about things I wanted to change in the world,” the nation’s first youth poet laureate, 23, ...

Believe it or not, there’s a lot more “Real Housewives” drama that is seen on television. And now there’s a book about it. On Wednesday, Andy Cohen Books, an imprint of Henry Holt, announced it will publish “Not All Diamonds and Rose: The Inside Story of The Real Housewives From the People Who Lived It,” written by entertainment journalist Dave Quinn. The 496-page hardcover is set for release ...

Get up-to-the-minute news sent straight to your device.

Topics

News Alerts

Breaking News