My friend Julie recently decided to take advantage of beautiful spring weather by walking to a nearby store. Along the way, a number of drivers stopped to ask if she was okay, had her car broken down, did she need a ride? It has come to this: walking is aberrant behavior.
When Kurt Hoelting took to his feet for a year, it wasn’t to be eccentric. He was concerned about the human contribution to climate change and his own role in the damage done. Many of us have the same concern, but few commit to the sort of activism that Hoelting demonstrated. The Circumference of Home is his chronicle of a year in which he traveled no farther from his own home than sixty miles, and only by public transport or by foot, bike, or boat.
A wilderness guide and commercial fisherman, Hoelting is in a better position than most to track the rapidly growing damage to ecosystems. No doubt this firsthand knowledge makes him more keenly aware of how our actions impact the planet and future generations. His resolution to travel locally and in the most environmentally-friendly way was not an impetuous act , yet the surprises started popping up within minutes of his start date. Setting out for a walk on a cold, rainy day in January, Hoelting reports that “…with no shield against the traffic and rain, I feel as if I’ve entered a new kind of wilderness…. Only my refusal to give up before I’ve even begun keeps me from turning back…”
Despite Hoelting’s admirable dedication to a good cause, support for his year of local living was slim. Family, friends, and total strangers were baffled and somewhat alarmed by his plan. Traffic failed to respect the space of a solitary traveler. He was detained by customs officials after he kayaked from Canadian to U.S. water. “You… have put your country at risk!” they told him.
Lest you fear that The Circumference of Home is another guilt-trip that you don’t need or want, rest assured that Hoelting doesn’t write with the sort of condescension that comes so easily from those who make remarkable sacrifices for a cause. “I know well enough how it is to be stuck in the trenches of making a living and raising a family,” Hoelting writes. “This has been my reality, too. I am in no position to judge.”
The Circumference of Home is not a how-to or a list of simple steps for saving the planet. It is an exploration of personal responsibility and discovery in the 21st century. With slower means of conveyance, Hoelting has much time to ponder life, culture, and the balance of what we’ve forfeited and what we’ve gained. He points out that our children and grandchildren are losing not only a planet, but their connection with that planet, and the consequences of this disconnect go deeper than we may realize.
“Research has also shown a strong correlation between time spent in nature and the incidence of … ADHD among children,” the author tells us. We talk a lot about leaving a better world for our children and grandchildren, but are we really doing anything to make that happen? Perhaps Hoelting has initiated a movement by naming the problem ‘nature-deficit disorder.’ If we think of the loss of habitat as a treatable illness that affects our children, no doubt research will ensue; the question is, will anyone think to simply send the kids out to play in the yard?
Hoelting is certainly awed and inspired by the beauty and miracles in his beloved Pacific Northwest, and he seasons every page with history and traditions of the area. His detailed description and innocent delight serve to remind readers what is at stake and why Hoelting stocks to his twelve-month odyssey. Can one man traveling lightly upon the earth for a single year really make a difference? Perhaps not, but optimists like Hoelting know that it doesn’t hurt:
“If we share any part of the wider biological legacy of flocks, may it be this: that in times of great need, a few individuals acting bolding on their convictions can trigger a shift toward collective survival that is both swift and widely shared.”