Book Review: Dirt Work by Christine Byl – Tales from a former “Traildog” in National Parks and Forests

5 01 2013

15799014Title:  Dirt Work – An Education in the Woods

Author:  Christine Byl (As far as I can tell, Byl doesn’t yet have a website)

Publisher:  Beacon Press

Release Date: April 16, 2013

My Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Christine Byl shares her own story.  After graduating college, she spends part of a summer working in the woods on a trail crew for the NPS.  There is something about the manual labor that strikes a cord with her.  So every summer she comes back.  And even when she moves on to graduate school in Alaska, she discovers that you can’t take the woods out of the girl.  In this memoir, she starts each section with a favorite “tool” from the trail – a tool that defines the part of her life that the next chapter will chronicle.  And then she tells the story of that summer, interrupting it with vignettes on trail life, people or other outdoor lore.

Byl’s first full length book is quite well written and a tribute to those who labor behind the scenes as temporary workers to make “our” vacations into the wild a doable experience.  Traildogs….did you ever consider what goes into the running of National Forests or Parks?  Who goes out and builds those little bridges or clears away the blow down after a storm?  Byl lets us peek into camp after camp of characters – sharing stories of the “rules” and the camaraderie.

I really enjoyed this book.  I love “real” people and Byl doesn’t sugar coat anything.  The tales have depth and heart and truth.  The writing is superb.  Byl’s obviously been able to take something near and dear to her heart, and paint an accurate and complete picture for the reader with her words and descriptions.  You see the beauty of the great outdoors, feel her own emotions as she experiences life, and hear the conversations of her trail mates.  It’s as if one is walking beside her through these things.

I also loved learning about her life after the trails – living in Alaska in the sticks.  Having Wifi, but no running water.  Her love of the outhouse struck me.  I personally would not give up my warm bathroom in the morning.  While we struggle with a few cold months and daylight that ends at 5pm, she talks of how the seasons have shaped her in light and in darkness.Her love for the forests and hidden lands of our country is shown on her sleeve throughout this memoir – it shapes and molds her.

My one slight criticism is that she does jump around A LOT in these chapters.  She is telling one main thread,and then skips to a rabbit trail or two, before circling back around to the main telling.  In an ARC ebook, this is incredibly challenging to follow.  There should be some dividers or gaps in the text to give the reader an idea of the jump.  It slowed down my reading and threw me off quite a bit.  I also hope the final version of this book includes some pictures, because in a book on the beauty of America’s great outdoors, pictures would complete this story!

Recommend for:  Memoir lovers who enjoy tales of the great outdoors and looking at the real America.

Note:  I was given a copy of this book by the publisher.  All opinions expressed are my own.

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19 01 2013
Release Date of Books I’ve Reviewed « Shelly's Journal

[…] Dirt Work: An Education in the Woods by Christine Byl […]

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