Currently I'm a librarian and before that I was an archaeologist, a journalist, and definitely a bit of a world traveler. I tend to mostly read science fiction and fantasy, though I do love a good mystery and I'm a bit of a book dabbler overall. I've been doing Goodreads for awhile, but a friend thought I might enjoy this as well. Let's see, yeah?
I succumbed to the lure of Denali National Park and had to pick this book up after seeing it in the book store there. The first essay -- "The Men I Left Behind" by Mary Emerick -- had me completely hooked. I could see so much of my own thoughts in her and reading her work was like getting a glimpse of the life that could have been if I'd just been a little braver and a little more sure of myself back when I started college...
Sadly, I didn't find many of the essays near as engaging and some of them felt rather gimmicky to me. They reminded me of the weird twists that my Creative Journalism professor would crowbar into our stories, leaving my classmates and I looking at each other skeptically. This isn't to say that the stories were necessarily badly written... They just weren't my cup of tea -- I guess it's the difference between reading for enjoyment and reading for literary value? They don't always cover the same territory.
The tone of the book ran the gamut from full of wonder and love (such as "Thinking Like Water" by Matthew Bowser, "No Turning Back" by Christa Sadler, and "Venus at Minus 50" by Tom Walker) to introspective ("A Chance Encounter" by Robert Cornelius and "An Admirable Hard Start" by Seth Slater and "The Wild Dead" by Jeremy Pataky) to funny ("Tonight We Dash" by Ruth Rhodes and "Six" by Troy Davis) and downright depressing ("A Portrait of My Father in Three Place" by Cassandra Kircher and "Pretty Enough" by Janet Smith).
I prefered the wonder, thoughtfulness, and humor to the depressing and the "life sucks" kinds of ones. I really wasn't big on the stories that talked about park life as a bunch of drugs and alcohol and sneering at the uneducated masses who think they've really visited the parks. Yeah, these help give a more full picture of what the Park life is like, but it made for some pretty uneven reading. Perhaps this is a book to be read an essay at a time, with gaps between, so you can savor the good ones and gloss over or contemplate the negative ones. For me, a lot of the negative ones felt like they were forcing points or trying to make a deeper meaning to their stories -- whereas the positive ones found that deeper meaning with seeming effortlessness. Now, I'm not saying negative things can't happen in a positive story -- one lets you know in the first paragraph that someone is going to lose the use of his legs. It's the overall approach to the essay that I'm talking about.
The other thing that was sometimes apparent in the more negative stories -- but not as acknowledged internally -- is that negativity was brought into the park with them. The attitude was different -- focused on slacking and moral issues and angst or a lack of knowledge.
The lack of knowledge kind of bothered me because -- even though many of the writers were not park rangers, I wonder if many readers will think about what that means for their credibility as they read the stories. For instance, one writer did all the wrong things when it came to grizzly bear contact. He's really lucky he didn't get mauled because he didn't follow the simplest bear safety rules and never mentioned that... So I wonder if he wasn't paying attention to the training videos that I know that particular state makes people watch when they do outdoors work (I had that video inflicted on me -- "Whoa bear, whoa"). Another example is a writer speaking about the possible psychological trauma that scintific studies may inflict on animals and says that perhaps we should do it the Native American one. This was meant to imply a "one with nature" approach, but didn't seem to realize that animals were often studied in that context to be... hunted.
So, like I said, an uneven read but some of the essays are definitely recommended. They're varied enough that I think everyone will enjoy at least one wholeheartedly.