John Francis stopped using motorized transportation after witnessing a 1971 oil spill in the San Francisco Bay. He stopped talking several months later. As the subtitle says, 22 years of walking, 17 years of silence.
The book I read was the Advance Reader’s Edition, published in 2008 by the National Geographic Society.
There’s another book by the same name and the same author but a different publisher (Elephant Mountain Press). It was published in 2005 and based on what I found on Amazon, the beginning of the first chapter is the same in both. So, I don’t know if I read the same book, a slightly different book or what.
This book is a conundrum.
I found it provocative. As I was reading it, it provided fodder for several interesting conversations, for example, as we took a roadtrip to Moab or as I considered Rachel’s Vow of Silence day.
Francis is very matter of fact throughout the book. He readily acknowledges his detractors and his own doubts but then just moves on to the next topic. The book appears to be largely drawn from his journals so at times there are disconcerting gaps in time and places where the narrative simply fades away.
I found myself struggling with the question of how much is enough as Francis allows people to transport his pack for him on his treks and sends gear ahead via mail. Francis touches on these questions later in the book, in the form of recognizing but not resolving the issue.
Francis never pretends to have the answers but reading about an individual who managed to earn a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree and a Ph.D. at three different universities, all while walking across the country and not talking, provides for some very thought provoking opportunities to question one’s own journey.
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