Like many people, I have a dual personality, with one part yearning for a simpler, quieter life close to nature, yet also loath to give up the pleasures of civilization. I recently read a book by Dylan Tomine, who has managed to structure his life so that he has the best of both worlds. Living on a relatively undeveloped island, Tomine and his family grow and gather food, be it in their garden or in a forest or on the water. Yet they also live a short ferry ride from Seattle, a cosmopolitan city if there ever was one.
Tomine’s book, Closer to the Ground: An Outdoor Family’s Year on the Water, in the Woods, and at the Table (Ventura, CA: Patagonia Books, 2012), is an easygoing telling of four seasons in his family’s life. He, his children, and sometimes his wife, search for mushrooms, go fishing, hit the beach for clam digging, garden, berry pick, and much more. All this activity has a two-fold purpose: enjoy their time at the dining table as sustainably and personally as possible, and explore the nature that surrounds them, from forest to sea to their backyard.
Gardening I can agree with, mushroom picking as well, but I am still loath to shoot a deer or go fishing – that’s a personal predilection on my part. Tomine writes in such a simple, unassuming way, that even these activities that I disagree with come across as simple living. No preaching or missionary work here. What resonates the most for me are that his children are front and center for pretty much everything, learning about nature’s cycles, what humans are doing to interrupt nature’s processes, and what it means to be as sustainable as possible while still retaining some of today’s comforts (actually, quite a few).
Tomine’s stories remind me quite a bit of my own childhood, specifically growing up near the Pacific Ocean in Huntington beach, CA. Oil derricks, landfills, and channelled waterways were all clear signs of the degradation of nature, yet the ocean was literally at our feet. Ironically, while I cannot eat anything from the sea, I practically grew up in the salt water, skin diving, bodysurfing, visiting tide pools and so much more.
Like Tomine, our parents showed us how to harvest nature, both from our backyard garden (fruit trees, produce) and head for the ocean as well. I well remember clam digging as a family, looking for telltale signs that clams were below the surface of the sand, then digging them up and tossing them into buckets.
Even more memorable were the Grunion Runs – times when small fish would teem along the shore, usually late at night under a full moon. Looking around the beach, trash can fires keeping everyone warm, huge amounts of the fish were netted from the waves hitting the shore, to be taken home to be prepared in sundry ways.
Closer to the Ground hits very close to me, both as a memory-jogger and as an example of how such a life can be lived pretty much anywhere. Highly recommended to anyone who is interested in living with and in nature, especially as it relates to family.
About the Author: Dylan Tomine, formerly a fly fishing guide, is now a writer, conservation advocate, blueberry farmer, and father, not necessarily in that order. Dylan’s work has appeared in The Flyfish Journal, The Drake, Golfweek, The New York Times, and numerous other publications. He lives with his family on an island in Puget Sound.
(Disclaimer: I was sent this item for free to review on my blog. I did not pay for the item, receive payment for this review, or agree to give a positive review. Aside from information gleaned from the company website, the opinions are my own.)