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Nature--now

Books that will make you face the heat

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Just when you've been asked "Hot enough for you?" for the third time today comes the impulse to go outside and venture farther. Farther from the phones and pavement, farther from the turn signals and busy signals.

These three books will get you out. Get you back out. Maybe not all the way back to nature, but close enough. See you on the trails. Take an extra water for a safe return.

North Carolina Hiking Trails by Allen de Hart, Appalachian Mountain Club Books, $22.95

The fourth edition has just been published, and it includes 1,300 trails covering 3,500 miles. Maia Dery calls de Hart the "hiking guru." This nearly 600-page book fits nicely in your mini-backpack or glove compartment. It's meant to get some use, with lots of maps, contact info and very specific directions. No one's going to get lost on de Hart's watch. There's a chapter on college and university trails. He mentions some good local trails at N. C. State, Duke and Carolina. We get a pair of giant chapters on the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Nantahala National Forest. There's an appendix simply titled "Leave No Trace."

Let de Hart be your guide. It's out there. When you plan your next adventure, take this book along--you'll always end up somewhere!

Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder by Richard Louv, Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, $24.95

It's not a complicated concept. We're not getting outside as much as we used to, and we're raising a nation of children unused to experiencing nature beyond the occasional field trip. Basically, it's this: Get a move on, will you? Get outside. Take your children. Notice nature. It's meaningful, it's all around you, it's very important.

Louv writes of the human costs of alienation from nature. He empowers parents to share a nature with their child that's a reality, not an abstraction. Filled with success stories, many of them first person with his two sons playfully jumping in and out of the text, Last Child in the Woods is inspiring. We have an opportunity here. One great essay title is "It's Not the Internet, It's the Oceans."

A young boy interviewed for the book looked up honestly and said, "I like to play indoors better 'cause that's where all the electrical outlets are."

It's not too late. Louv muses, "In nature, a child finds freedom, fantasy and privacy: a place distant from the adult world, a separate peace."

Bird Songs of the Mesozoic: A Day Hiker's Guide to the Nearby Wild by David Brendan Hopes, Milkweed Editions, $15.95

Hopes is a professor in the department of literature and language at the University of North Carolina Asheville. He has written one sweet, unique, quirky collection of essays about hiking. Sometimes it reads like the I Ching. Starting with natural observations, Hopes goes off on curious, funny and very engaging tangents. Essays commence with lines like, "In college I skipped classes to hike" or "I didn't expect anybody to be in the forest today" and "I met Lynette for a walk in the woods. Lynette is a high priestess of a coven that meets in south Asheville."

"Nature finds us where we are," the flyleaf reminds the reader. During his hikes along the Blue Ridge, in Pisgah and the Shining Rock Wilderness, Hopes kept his mind and eyes open. His journal reflects his eclectic talents as a poet, painter and actor. We hike along, entertained.

Professor Hopes says it best: "Grab the walking stick a little harder. Bend to the road. Go with it."

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