Getting to Grey Owl
Journeys on Four Continents
More than a dozen essays covering one man’s journey across four continents as he reflects on the pleasures of the wandering life
Writer, teacher, and adventurer Kurt Caswell has spent his adult life canoeing, hiking, and pedaling his way toward a deeper understanding of our vast and varied world. Getting to Grey Owl chronicles over twenty years of Caswell’s travels as he buys a rug in Morocco, rides a riverboat in China, attends a bullfight in Spain, climbs four mountains in the United Kingdom, and backpacks a challenging route through Iceland’s wild Hornstrandir Peninsula. Writing in the tradition of such visionary nomads as Hermann Hesse, Robert Louis Stevenson, Bruce Chatwin, Paul Theroux, Pico Iyer, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and William Wordsworth, Caswell travels through wild and urban landscapes, as well as philosophical and ideological vistas, championing the pleasures of the wandering life. Far from the trappings of the everyday, he explores a range of ideas: the meaning of roads and pathways, the story of Cain and Abel, nomadic life and the evolution of the human animal, the role of agriculture in the making of the modern world, and the fragility of love.
Ultimately, every road leads the traveler back home, a return to origins that centers and prepares the wanderer to wander again. Though Caswell advocates a life spent challenging the complacency that comes with staying in one place, in many ways Getting to Grey Owl celebrates the way we mostly remain the same.
In the final piece in the collection, Caswell returns to the American West, not far from where he grew up, and accompanies three Peruvian sheepherders, their dogs, and 4,000 sheep. They trek across a mountain to seek shelter as a storm approaches. Along the way Caswell wrestles with the burden of carrying a lamb out of the storm, and comes to the realization that while the object of love may be transient and fleeting, love itself endures.
“Kurt Caswell is a man with an unrequited wanderlust.”
— Barbaraq blog
“Kurt Caswell is an ideal traveling partner: humane, knowledgeable, and profoundly empathetic. These essays take you from Japan to Morocco to the American West, among other places, and there's not one that doesn't leave you feeling both smarter and more curious. Anyone who loves travel, whether literal or literary, will be enriched and moved by this fine book.”
— Tom Bissell, author of Magic Hours: Essays on Creators and Creation
“A fine lyric nerve animates all of Caswell's prose. The work is alert, tuned in high degree to the sensory reality of place, romantic but also reflective upon its romanticism—a pleasure and a consistent instruction to read.”
— Sven Birkerts, author of The Art of Time in Memoir
“Getting to Grey Owl is a good read. ... [Caswell] offers a perspective rooted in knowledge and respect for his surroundings, and it is definitely worth accompanying him on his travels.”
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— Austin American-Statesman
“Kurt Caswell is an intrepid and deeply sensitive traveler, as well as an engaging writer. He finds fascination and adventure wherever he goes, whether in Iceland or Morocco or Japan, or closer to home in Nebraska and Idaho, and he makes the reader eager to accompany him.”
— Lynne Sharon Schwartz, author of Disturbances in the Field