Escape the Urban Book Review: Clear Waters Rising

21 Nov

I often find myself reaching for a travel book when traveling myself. While I may be physically crossing oceans or deserts, my mind is conducting a parallel journey through mountains and forests in the book in my lap. So if your Thanksgiving week involves a long flight or drive, consider taking a mental walk from Spain to Istanbul in this Escape the Urban book selection. 

Clear Waters Rising, by Nicholas Crane, does not appear on this week’s best seller list. It is easily available online, but does not currently hold a reserved place at the local bookstore. Good travel books, while never exactly timeless, as they document a specific journey at a specific point in history, are at least accessible at all times, and Clear Waters fulfills that mandate.

Mr. Crane’s grand plans are geographic, not literary. A natural explorer, and nearing his 40th birthday, he decides to walk across Europe in the most difficult way possible – by staying in the mountains for the entire journey. Cape Finisterre to the Golden Horn, via the Cantabrians, Pyrenees, Cevennes, Alps, Carpathians and Balkans – ten thousand kilometers and almost a year and a half. The scope is immense, the effort epic, and the resulting book is naturally accessible, funny, fascinating, and moving, without any artificial narrative imposed for effect.

Crane pays particular attention to the little details, the small individual challenges that make up such a journey. One such delightful snippet is the choosing of gear to lug across the continent. Several paragraphs are devoted to the wonders of the wide brimmed Herbert Johnson “Traveling” trilby hat – warm in the winter, cool in the summer, shades the eyes and keeps out the rain. Should be take three socks or four? If he takes three, he can always wear one fresh sock, one old sock, and wash the third. But if he takes four, he can wear fresh socks every day, and put the spare pair on his hands as gloves. Never mind that he is crossing the continent via mountain, and will be above tree-line and in freezing conditions regularly.

Clear Waters Rising is a history lesson, a travel journey, a snapshot of rural Europe, and an ode to alpine majesty. It is populated by humble shepherds, sweeping vistas, the occasional major city, and all the while, the indefatigable Mr. Crane, hard working everyman and self-depreciating traveler. Wonderment is the only regular theme this book needs.  

Buffalo can be a dreary and small place, especially cooped up in our homes as winter sets in – no sweeping vistas or overlooking mountains to draw the spirit up and out. I pick this book up every once in a while to be re-inspired, renewed, redreamed, and have my achievement meter reset.

Author’s Note: Escape the Urban will be taking Thanksgiving weekend off, and so should you. The next article will appear on Sunday, December 5th.

One Response to “Escape the Urban Book Review: Clear Waters Rising”

  1. Brian November 21, 2010 at 10:33 am #

    I just went to Ireland and England with my wife and daughter. In Ireland I read “The Great Hunger” about the famine 1845-1850. When I went to England I wanted to kick ALL my English cousins (so far as I know I’m of 100% English stock) in the ‘nads.

    Read travel, not history, is my advice.

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