Book: Closer to the Ground by Dylan Tomine


Closer to the Ground, by Dylan Tomine
2012, Patagonia Books

I’d like to preface this write-up by saying that there’s no accounting for taste. I always get a little nervous doing a book “review” because I feel this pressure to say whether it was “good” or “bad” or something else. Well – don’t expect that kind of review from me. Rather I like to present some of my thoughts on the book, and try to give the prospective reader an idea of the flavor of the book. And hopefully do that in a way that other reviewers have not. That way folks can make a decision whether it’s a book that they may like.  That’s the goal anyway. Rather than just saying it’s “good” or “bad”. So there it is, and here it is. Oh and one more thing, this is not a fly fishing book. It is written by a guy with fly fishing cred, and I think it will appeal to many ff’ers out there but it is not a fly fishing book.

Closer to the Ground is a good name for this book. Dylan Tomine invites us to share in a year of living with him and his family, and notably with his two kids. And as you know children are closer to the ground. Of course this is literal as well as metaphorical. On one mushroom hunting trip detailed in the book we see Mr. Tomine’s son Weston find all the mushrooms because of this fact of his lower carriage. Weston is simply closer to the ground. So he finds the booty. But there is of course another layer – and that’s what I like. There are different kinds of people in this world – people that are in a hurry to grow up and join in the grown up business of the world, and that don’t have room for wonder and exploration and the joy of childhood anymore. And other folks that are struggling to maintain that – or maybe struggling to remember what that was like – to remember what it is like to be a child, to be closer to the ground. Yes of course we all grow up – but Tomine has written a book that reminds me of the boundless enthusiasm and un-managed expectations of childhood. And more importantly he reminds me not to squash that in my children. Allow my children to be children, and allow myself to be caught up in the wonder of the natural world with them, and teach them what I know about it.

We live on a planet that is tilted on its axis. And in a modern world it can be easy to forget this, at least for those of us in a house in the city or suburbs, that buy our food all wrapped up in plastic and cardboard at the local giant grocery store. In Closer to the Ground we are reminded that we live in a tilted world. A world that changes. A world with seasons. The weather changes and the available food changes – or at least it used to.  Dylan Tomine and his family live a little more closely linked to the changing seasons. They grow a garden, pick blackberries and mushrooms, fish for salmon, dig clams and cut firewood. Nothing Earth shattering. And Tomine makes it clear that his book is not any sort of radical back to nature, survivalist manual. The Tomine family does garden and fish and forage – but they also go to the grocery store and use computers. He tries to heat his home with wood – but he has a furnace too – just in case. He’s not attempting to give us the details of how we could change our lives. He is giving us a peek at his life through the seasons of a year – and how he and his family have made some little changes which have brought them in closer touch with the Earth and its cycles. It is up to us to imagine how we might do the same. He talks a lot about his children – and about how they can be wonderful and surprising if they are allowed to be. But again it is not any sort of parenting manual.

I come from a family that has some history with foraging and hunting and fishing. My father and his father and grandfather before him were foragers. They didn’t call it that of course. But they hunted mushrooms and picked berries and wild greens. They were gardeners too. And hunters and anglers. None of this was any sort of attempt to get closer to nature – it’s just the way it was for them. I have continued some of these things – I try not to miss raspberry season – and I like to fish. But I have gotten away from some of the others. Partly because the ever creeping suburban sprawl has wiped out any nearby foraging locations, except for a few berry patches. But also just because of neglect. After reading this book I am recharged to try and do a better job. This season, we’ll get the raspberries for sure, I’ll look for some of those wild greens, and maybe mushrooms. And the thing that I have never done with my kids – which I will definitely do this year is a big ole bluegill fry. If you have never caught a mess of sunfish, filleted them, breaded them with cornmeal breading, and fried them up – then you haven’t tasted heaven. In my book there isn’t much better than that. We used to do it when I was a kid – but I somehow let it slip away. This book reminded me that I owe it to my kids to let them go catch there own delicious meal. We fish but we always let them go. This summer we’re keeping some.

So to wrap it up, I enjoyed this book. I am a dad, and I have a history of fishing, hunting and foraging, so this book clicked with me. It may not click with everybody – after all there is no accounting for taste – but if you are a parent and you share some of that history then I think you’ll enjoy it.

you can get the book here: Patagonia Books – Closer to the Ground

find out more about Dylan Tomine here:

Disclosure: I contacted Patagonia Books for a review copy of this book – which I received free of charge – other than that, no compensation was given for this review.

2 Comments on Book: Closer to the Ground by Dylan Tomine

  1. Both the book and your review bring to me the Zen concept of Shoshin, Beginner’s Mind, which allows a person to experience zeal and enthusiasm for the otherwise commonplace aspects of living.

    Yours is a well-done review in that it transmits the flavor of the book in such a way as to attract those readers who might enjoy its subject matter and as to ward off those who find their joy elsewhere.

    As for me, I plan to get my hands on a copy soon; I am now number one on the wait list at our public library.

    Thanks for the excellent review of a book that would have otherwise passed me by unnoticed.


    • Thanks Paul – your comments always have me doing research…

      so I looked up Shoshin and very quickly found this “Zen teacher Shunryu Suzuki, who says the following about the correct approach to Zen practice: In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.”

      I love that idea that in the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities – this concept is very appealing to me – I hope I can remain a beginner. Many possibilities are much better than few.

what say you?