Book Reviews

Meet Judith Rodby, Ph.D., Professor Emerita of English from CSU, Chico. Judith leads our monthly book club and is a voracious reader who enjoys connecting with fellow book lovers. Judith led The National Reading Initiative for the National Writing Project and has facilitated book clubs for children, adolescents, and adults. Be sure to check back frequently to learn about her latest favorites, and browse the archive for even more!

 

On Trails by Robert Moor

Robert Moor begins On Trails by recounting his five-month odyssey as a through-hiker on the Appalachian trail. Moor’s musings about his experiences are fed by research into fields such as entomology, mammalogy, botany, natural history, and Native American culture, and this intellectual meandering leads Moor to consider what trails mean in both broad philosophical terms and in their concrete realities. Readers interested in outdoor adventure stories may find these elements too sparse in On Trails. However, those who want to dip in and out of Moor’s stories and savor his ideas about trails will find this book a pleasure, a good summer (but certainly not a beach) read.

Moor discusses how trails are created through a continual and communal process of making sense; they emerge as a form of shared, collective intelligence. The complex behavior of ants in making trails, for example, results not from smart individuals but from smart systems. Moor views trails as tools, an externalized form of knowledge and cognition that beings, from plants and slime molds to humans, use to make more trails.

While these notions are fascinating, equally, if not more interesting to me were the details about creatures:  the primitive intelligence that compels slime mold to move; ants leaving hints for each other; taciturn sheep; elephants and their “topographic genius” loving to make trails because of their social structure, habits of walking and the structure of their feet. And indeed I smiled at the story of the elephant, Shirley, who makes a trail to her former companion’s grave.