Tallmadge was a child of the late sixties with a Yale doctorate in comparative literature under his arm and an empathy for nature in his soul. As a young idealist, he sought the authenticity, power, and possibility of the wilderness by following the intellectual and physical trails blazed by Henry Thoreau and John Muir. His memoir is an attempt to discover another, more private, inner landscape. The result is a graceful, erudite compendium of natural history, travel, literary interpretation, and personal adventure as Tallmadge recounts the years after he left the army at age 26, until he became a dedicated English professor at age 40. In an imagistic style reminiscent of Annie Dillard, he takes us along on his hikes to the High Sierra, Katahdin, and the Deeps and Canyonlands where, like some knight-errant, he proves himself over and over. If his teaching tenure is denied, Tallmadge realizes he has learned nature's lessons: just as water overcomes through nonresistance and the jack pine needs fire to release its seeds, man endures through spirit and faith. Patricia Hassler
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English professor John Tallmadge combines the study of nature writers such as Thoreau, John Muir, Edward Abbey, and Aldo Leopold with wilderness trips (many with his students) to experience the natural beauty and ruggedness that inspired the philosophy, social and political theories, and aesthetics of the writers under consideration. Tallmadge describes the trips precisely with a naturalist's eye and honestly discusses the hardships of the trail. He ties the trips to nature writing in a thoughtful and poetic manner as he covers various terrains. He includes mountain settings in the Sierras on the John Muir trail, Mount Katahdin in Maine, and the Wind River Mountains in Wyoming; the desert surrounding Arches National Park and the Great Basin in Utah; and the prairies of Minnesota and Ohio. Our relationship to the land shapes our thoughts and thereby our lives, Tallmadge argues. Mountains are dramatic as they "stood forth in gigantic characters, and marks of violence seemed to be everywhere. It was hard to escape a sense of tragedy." The struggle of desert plants to survive "might lie in a willingness to grow from within, to turn their creativity upon themselves instead of attacking their environment, as human beings do." The generative power and rootedness of the prairie might be viewed as a contrast to the upheavals of the mountains as the "strength and richness that grew over time with the humble practice of staying in one place." Meeting the Tree of Life appeals to teachers, students, and nature enthusiasts. Its descriptions enable readers to relive the experience of places they have visited and immerse them in unfamiliar terrain. It serves as an inviting introduction to nature writing and includes a helpful bibliography. -- From Independent Publisher