When author Jonathan Stewart completed an extensive career with the National Forest Service, he sought a different view of the woods he's walked countless times and many, many miles. His latest book, "Walking Away from the Land: Change at the Crest of a Continent" chronicles Stewart's 3,200-mile trek of the Rocky Mountains, from Canada to the Mexican border, examining cultural and climatic change from a scientific—and personal—perspective.
"Since I left the Forest Service I started hiking throughout the West," says Stewart, humbly. "I now get to see how everyone else looks at the forest."
Equipped with a broad background and decades of work as a backcountry guard, smokejumper, fire management officer, volunteer coordinator, national fire plan coordinator and public affairs officer for the Deschutes and Mount Hood national forests, the author is no stranger to a walk in the woods. Or in Stewart's case, 15-30-miles of hiking—per day. His latest book focuses on climate change, land management and land use planning based on his longest trek thus far.
Checked off his list are no small feats including hiking the length of the Cascades on the Pacific Crest Trail (2,700 miles), the Rockies to the Cascades on the Pacific Northwest Trail (750 miles), across the American Southwest on the Hayduke Trail (900 miles), and the inspiration for his latest work, the Continental Divide Trail (3,200 miles). Over the past decade, Stewart has clocked in more than 10,000 miles.
"What I've learned from those lands are mostly the impacts of climate change," Stewart says. "The loss of forest due to fires, disease and insects. And the other side is the impact on wildlife. The focus [of the book] is really the changing land throughout the West."
Presenting environmental problems with plausible solutions is also the focus of the book: urbanization versus urban planning, sprawling communities versus defensible spaces, and combatting fossil fuel use and the decimation of forests, grasslands and native wildlife, with common sense approaches.
The author's largely solo treks have been complimented by welcome encounters (people, not grizzlies). And like life, Stewart says, it's those you meet that make the difference.
"Every trail offers its own beauty but it's certainly the people I've met who make it incredible," he says. "And the book also talks about those you meet along the way."
When Stewart is not on the trail, he's managing a tree farm in the Mt. Hood National Forest, and planning his next adventure. His next book is slated for the desert Southwest's iconic national parks (Arches, Canyonlands, Zion, Bryce, Capitol Reef and the Grand Canyon) all connected via the Hayduke Trail.
A good read for many, and certainly Edward Abbey.
The nonprofit land-use watchdog group, Central Oregon LandWatch, is hosting the book and photo presentation on the rapidly changing West as seen from the trail Monday.
Walking Away From the Land 5:30 pm. Mon., Nov. 10. Bend Public Library, Brooks Room. Free. 601 NW Wall St.