Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Ruth Rudner and Forgotten Pleasures: An Appreciation

This 50th post is an appreciation of a nature book that remains readable and timely!

But, before we appreciate books, let’s appreciate readers and all the people who helped with this blog. Thank you for reading this blog, for trying to work around the software and for helping me make the posts accurate and attractive with art work!

In 1978, Ruth Rudner, a nature writer who now lives in Montana, wrote Forgotten Pleasures. By sharing simple and direct ways to enjoy nature, Forgotten Pleasures was as ingenious as Walden or John Burroughs’ intimate views of the outdoors.

Ruth Rudner (photo: David Muench)

“Our current enthusiasm for getting back to Nature,” Rudner wrote, “has made so great a mystique of equipment that the adventure seems nowhere near as important as the gear we must first purchase.” She went on to explain that adventure can be found in the simplest natural acts, grabbing a bucket and going berrying, or watching the night sky.

Following this vote for experience over equipment, Rudner described nearly 50 ways to simply enjoy the outdoors. Some are complex, such as building a replica of Huck and Jim’s raft.

Huck Finn rafts aside, most of the experiences might be summarized as “hiding in plain sight.” Rudner chronicles walking, hiking, flying kites, canoeing, learning about butterflies, collecting mussels, body surfing, collecting shells or rocks, skipping stones, sledding, skating and cross country skiing.

Rudner knows how to say just enough about a topic, opening a chapter on walking by writing, “When I was a child my father and I simply walked out the door, down the street and into the woods.” Later on she observes, “Nature is made up of grizzly bears and sequoias, but it is made up even more of spiderwebs and star flowers. You have to go gently to see them.”

In celebrating the particular, Rudner anticipated the revival of small farms, locavores and enjoying nature at a time when gasoline prices are climbing again. If a person does not want to spend a lot of money to go out of town, Rudner offers a vast array of great ideas for appreciating nature in the neighborhood.

In the late 1970’s, I found Forgotten Pleasures on a pleasant summer evening in a small bookstore in Amagansett, on eastern Long Island. But then, when I wanted to reread the book, I could not find it. I wasn’t sure of the author’s name or title. It was out of print.

Finally, a kind person on an ABE Books blog gave me the correct title and the author’s name. Then, thanks to a wonderful place called Watkins Books in Dolgeville (http://www.abebooks.com/home/WATKINBK), on the northern edge of the Mohawk valley, I found a replacement copy.

Since she wrote Forgotten Pleasures, Rudner has been writing about nature in general, animals and national parks, tackling the latter subject with her husband, the photographer, David Muench. In a recent note, she wrote, “Writing about wilderness has become important to me; it is one of the ways I can help preserve what we have left of wild country.” That’s a fitting vocation for someone who enjoyed walking out the door with her father, down the street and into the woods.

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