Drunk in the Woods
“Sometimes,” Tony Whedon tells us in his brilliant new book, Drunk in the Woods, “I think there's such a thing as an alcoholic landscape -- a drunk landscape, as opposed to the sober one I live in now, the same trees, years later, the same brook, but with more clarity.” With such clarity Whedon tells of his close-to- the-bone experiences of gardening, cutting wood, and exploring the back country of northern Vermont. There's a lot of nature observation in this hybrid of nature writing and memoir, but Drunk in the Woods doesn't bog down in naturalistic fussiness. Rather his remarks on loggers and drunks, woodpeckers and animal tracks are woven into a lively, sometimes harrowing personal narrative, providing a fresh perspective on how “living wild” impinges on the mind of the suffering-and-then recovering alcoholic.
For much of his life, Whedon lived off-the- grid with his wife in a one-room cabin suffering in winter darkness and spring floods, drinking heavily and then making a go of it in recovery. An introductory chapter sets the tone for Drunk in the Woods. The Chinese poetry tradition of the sage tipsy on too much wine and too much Nature is evoked in “Form, Shadow, Spirit.” The book’s main themes – the darks and lights of backwoods loneliness, the transcendent clarity that drinking and sobering up in the woods provides -- are developed here. The book proceeds with thoughtful chapters on Emily Dickinson and Charles Darwin folded into meditations on birds of the northern forest, animal tracks, and the metaphysics of sobriety. Drunk in the Woods appeals to an environmentally concerned public and to a literary readership. The collection’s established bona fides – fifteen of its essays appeared in first-rate literary magazines -- suggest it will receive positive attention and will attract a wide readership: those who enjoyed Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek and the nature essays of Edward Hoagland, as well as readers from the recovery community, will relish this book.