Getting to Grey Owl: Journeys on Four Continents

Getting to Grey Owl: Journeys on Four Continents (Essays)

getting-to-grey-owl-cover3By Kurt Caswell. Trinity University Press: San Antonio, TX, 2015.

Writer, teacher, and adventurer Kurt Caswell has spent his adult life canoeing, hiking, and pedaling his way toward a deeper understanding of our vast and varied world. Getting to Grey Owl chronicles over twenty years of Caswell’s travels as he buys a rug in Morocco, rides a riverboat in China, attends a bullfight in Spain, climbs four mountains in the United Kingdom, and backpacks a challenging route through Iceland’s wild Hornstrandir Peninsula. Writing in the tradition of such visionary nomads as Hermann Hesse, Robert Louis Stevenson, Bruce Chatwin, Paul Theroux, Pico Iyer, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and William Wordsworth, Caswell travels through wild and urban landscapes, as well as philosophical and ideological vistas, championing the pleasures of the wandering life. Far from the trappings of the everyday, he explores a range of ideas: the meaning of roads and pathways, the story of Cain and Abel, nomadic life and the evolution of the human animal, the role of agriculture in the making of the modern world, and the fragility of love.

Ultimately, every road leads the traveler back home, a return to origins that centers and prepares the wanderer to wander again. Though Caswell advocates a life spent challenging the complacency that comes with staying in one place, in many ways Getting to Grey Owl celebrates the way we mostly remain the same.

In the final piece in the collection, Caswell returns to the American West, not far from where he grew up, and accompanies three Peruvian sheepherders, their dogs, and 4,000 sheep. They trek across a mountain to seek shelter as a storm approaches. Along the way Caswell wrestles with the burden of carrying a lamb out of the storm, and comes to the realization that while the object of love may be transient and fleeting, love itself endures.