I’ve spent most of the last couple of weeks in grumpy sleepless mode, with a horrible cold that means I’ve been getting to sleep at 4am and waking every 20 minutes thereafter. So I’ve been looking for something to read that’s absorbing but calm, and won’t make me more wakeful at 2am. I’m currently re-reading Nick Hornby’s book reviews which certainly fit the bill. But the surprise hit is a book that I started reading on a plane back from the US last year and just got back to a couple of days ago.
‘Loop Year‘ is an account of a very domestic-scale outdoor challenge. John Sheirer decides that rather than hike a long-distance trail or climb a mountain, he’ll hike a two-mile trail near his house every day for a year. And for each day he writes 365 words about what’s happened on this day of his 365-day challenge.
I picked up this book at the marvellous Montague Bookmill in Massachusetts (“Books you don’t need in a place you can’t find”), after a leisurely meal in their cafe and a couple of hours spent poking around the second-hand books. I liked that it’s a (very) local book to them that I probably wouldn’t get anywhere else. (Of course, it’s on Amazon, but I wouldn’t ever have known to look for it). I read a few of the daily essays while standing in the bookshop and wanted to keep going.
What I like about the book is exactly what I used to like when I walked the same walk on the Malvern Hills most Fridays. Sheirer documents the subtle changes with the seasons, along with more dramatic floods and snowfalls. Sometimes he sees the raccoon. Maybe a new tree has fallen. He sees some snowshoe marks and wonders whose they are. The walk is the same every day, but endlessly varying. It’s very zen.
It’s also an undramatic but endearing autobiography, as Sheirer falls in love over the course of the year. There’s a small cast of characters, mostly associated with the Land Trust who conserve the trail.
If you haven’t already taken in exactly what sort of book it is, I’ll just tell you that two of my very favourite entries are about a fungus. On day 56 it suddenly appears “I look down and see an enormous fungus growing … it looks exactly like a blooming rose with petals layered over each other with a graceful pattern. It’s the biggest and most beautiful fungus I’ve ever seen.” Then on day 169 it has finally died. “I carry it off the trail and down a slight embankment where I use the heel of my hiking shoe to dig a hole in the soft soil and give it a proper burial.”
It’s such a small detail but all the details like this just give that feeling of connection to the land, and being aware of how things change.
It’s not the book that I’d read if I wanted wild excitement, but its meditative pace was just perfect for me this week. I can tell it’s going to be a book that I go back to when I’m looking for that hit of nature and contemplation.