Deep Woods, Wild Waters, A Memoir by Douglas Woods



Review by Steve Voiles

In his memoir, Deep Woods, Wild Waters, Doug Wood tells us, wind, water, wild creatures, and weather can shape us into better people. “…The universe itself becomes more accessible. Awareness expands.” We pay attention; we end up seeking “the moment when the connection is complete.” Since we came from nature, we must be deeply connected to it.

Deep Woods, Wild Waters may be the year’s best read for lovers of the North Woods. Written by Douglas Wood, the president of the Listening Point Foundation, the book condenses a lifetime of thinking about the importance of nature and wilderness and its influence upon the human spirit.

“Birds, fish, wildlife, the flowing of water and the movement of clouds, the rise and fall of landscape, all these elements reflect and mirror the landscape within, and help to bring it into focus.” It is this ability to relate the outer world of nature to the inner world of meaning that elevates Wood’s work above other nature writers who may amaze or entertain us, but who often fail to touch our inner personal lives.

Wood, who suffered with ADHD and dyslexia as a child, defied all odds by becoming a best-selling author, singer/song writer and a wilderness guide. As a child, Wood had found solace in the fields and forests. When fishing with his grandfather or exploring the fields or forests, he escaped the pain and frustrations of school.

During the struggles of his early adult life, Wood’s wife Kathy suggested he read Listening Point by Sigurd Olson because of his love for natural things. Wood was shaken to the core by Olson’s writing. “Here was someone who saw the world as I did!” he recalled. Wood wrote to Olson to thank him for his writing, and Olson, who had also struggled in his early life, responded immediately commenting on the quality of Wood’s writing and encouraging him to pursue it. This encouragement became central to all that followed.

While Wood’s memoir naturally reflects the values and sentiments that are reflected in Olson’s work, Deep Woods, Wild Waters claims its own literary style and establishes Wood as a nature writer in his own right.

The book traces Wood’s childhood influences through his life as a musician, a children’s writer and a wilderness canoe guide. Following the muse of the natural world, he confronted each key decision in his life by opting for choices that kept him connected to the wild lands that nurtured his spirit. Wood’s writing always strives to find the connection, learn the lesson, grasp the deeper meaning of what nature reveals. “The vast rhythms and tempos of the natural world—sunrises and sunsets, the songs of wind and the crashing of storm waves. All the pregnant smells, sights, and sounds to which we are so often closed… Each is a language, each an instruction … biologically rooted in the heritage of the earth.”

Testing ourselves against water, wind and weather, Wood writes, prepares us for other challenges in life. “The worry over challenges to come is almost always worse, and lasts far longer, than the actual difficulty itself,” he writes. “Without fear, and the overcoming of fear, there is no adventure. And without adventure, life is a very weak brew.”

His description of a wildflower, the Pale Pink Corydalis, encapsulates many of the ideas that permeate the book:

“Here, on the exposed bedrock, with little to no soil, baking in the summer sun, absorbing the gray-fisted blows of howling nor’easters with their shredding winds, vulnerable to the inundation of winter snows and the unseen, rock-breaking assaults of frost, thawing, and refreezing … This is where it grows. This is where it stands and flaunts its little flag of color. To everything it is exposed, to every element, in every season. With only the tiniest of cracks and footholds to cling to, it stands. Delicate. Vulnerable. Tough. Defiant. Beautiful. And, brilliantly, it holds to all these charms at once. And therefore. it is, to me, inspirational, and a messenger to the heart.”

Wood’s writing quite naturally extends an environmental message. “We all live downstream,” he tells us; “…everything that anyone does—be it laundry or mining or logging or driving a car or riding a bus or flipping a light switch or purchasing a product—has an effect on someone else downstream. …Our only excuse for not knowing such things now is not wanting to know—the excuse of cowardice, of willful ignorance—which is, of course, no excuse at all. …It is our task to engage not just in the work of preservation, but of restoration.”

This is a book that cannot help but cause us to reflect upon what is significant in our own lives. In a culminating chapter, “The Stars of Sandfly,” Wood explores the existential challenge of finding meaning in life. “I felt keenly two separate feelings. One was the sense of being at home, alive and well upon the Earth, my favorite part of the Earth, in a place of extraordinary beauty. The second feeling was nearly the opposite—as if I were at the very edge of being lost—totally lost—in a universe vast beyond imagining, terrifying and impersonal in its scope and in all the unknowns it represented.” With a flair for unwrapping paradox he managed to connect the deep cold silence of the universe with the intimacy of private perception and creativity.

We spring from nature; we must be connected to it. By fully encountering nature, Woods tells us, we are “… seeking the moment when the connection is complete.” It is what we all search for he reminds us, and loving and protecting the natural world is the path towards significance in our individual lives. “We grow only if we accept the reality of distant thunder, and all of the fear and adventure it portends.”