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The Trail Home
Nature, Imagination, and the American West

"Home for us is not the place we were born, or that perfect somewhere else we used to dream of, but the place where we are-the place we stay long enough to begin to see. We know it imperfectly, not mindfully enough. But here we begin, and when we start over in another place we'll take what we know of this place with us, we'll begin this much closer to home."

—"The Trail Home"

The writer's most ancient task, John Daniel tells us in this collection of essays, is to "speak the mysteries, to remind the culture of what it can't afford to forget." At this time, when it often seems we can do little but lament the threat of humankind to the natural world, a new voice such as John Daniel's seems not only welcome and reassuring, but necessary. These essays serve as guides in finding our way home.

The voice we hear in The Trail Home is compassionate, knowledgeable, resonant. This is a poet's voice and it employs the poet's tools: concrete language describing particular problems or beauties of specific landscapes. Whether observing an old-growth forest, a western desert, or the writer's assault on clods of dirt in his own backyard garden, the clarity of vision invites the reader to come along. John Daniel's aim is to apprehend the natural world more personally, as people undoubtedly were meant to.

This collection heralds the emergence of a landscape writer working in the tradition of Wendell Berry, Gary Snyder, and Wallace Stegner. This is an American voice, informed by the vision of John Muir and the rhythms of Henry Thoreau. It is remarkable for its ability to measure wry observation and biting commentary with both wisdom and humor.

The Trail Home by Author John Daniel
The Trail Home
New York: Pantheon Books, 1992

Praise for The Trail Home

Read the reviews.

"John Daniel's essays are full of an irrepressible affinity with the natural world—a feeling that to be alive among mountains, deserts, waterfalls, the wild music of coyotes in the dark, is to be blessed. His essential advice is to pay attention to that blessing. 'What we see, we love,' he says. And certainly we see the world more sharply after reading these tender, informed, and eloquent essays."
—Mary Oliver

"This collection of essays, as richly numinous as a Hopi song-story, illuminates John Daniel's singular ability to wed poetic instinct with high reportorial skill and enlarge not only our understanding of the land itself but of the fragile human place within it."
—T. H. Watkins, Editor, Wilderness Magazine

"In our slowly improving conversation with the earth, John Daniel's voice is needed and welcome. His essays are eloquent, clarifying, and humorous. When he tells about them, familiar things become surprising."
—Wendell Berry

"John Daniel confronts the darkness of our estrangement from nature, then illuminates the trail back, toward familial intimacy with a world we have too long abused and forgotten. The Trail Home is a gem. Wise, deep, passionate, meticulously informed. An important contribution to the legacy of insight, beauty and hope shaped by a new generation of American nature writers."
—Richard Nelson

"These essays on the aesthetics and mismanagement of the West are painfully enlightening and bitter with the truth of inevitability. . . . Daniel, a Portland poet and former Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford, asks us to come to terms with nature, [writing with] the passion and sensitivity of a contemporary Thoreau."
—Paul Pintarich, The Oregonian

"In this collection, Daniel writes with evocative grace of dances with raccoons and a close encounter with a bear, as well as subjects as diverse as rock art and the fate of the upper Klamath River."—Audubon

"Daniel ranges from funny to formal, from personal observation to public policy, from metaphysical speculation to advocacy journalism, from the mundane to the divine. His voice is clear as the desert wind, as cool as a mountain stream, as steady as Oregon rain."
—Riverside (CA) Press-Enterprise

"An award winning poet, Daniel writes with a lyric acuity so authentic as to seem effortless."
—Robert Olen Butler, Chicago Tribune

"Thoughtful, plain-spoken nature essays. . . . A voice that's fresh, self-reflective, and free of cant: a welcome debut."
—Kirkus Reviews

"With the publication of The Trail Home, John Daniel has emerged as a major new figure in American nature writing. . . . The essays in this volume display not only sparkling language but clear and passionate thinking,"
—Western American Literature

"I should take Mr. Daniel to court for overstressing my emotional stability by revealing, in matchless prose, what a desert is all about. It hurts to hold back tears when they have no place else to go."
—David Brower