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Julie Wnuk reviews The Circumference of Home: One Man's Yearlong Quest for a Radically Local Life, by Kurt Hoelting
  

The Circumference of Home, by Kurt HoeltingWhile reading Kurt Hoelting’s memoir The Circumference of Home: One Man’s Yearlong Quest for a Radically Local Life, I couldn’t stop thinking of a quote attributed to Mahatma Ghandi that was painted on the wall of a college dormitory in which I once lived. The phrase, “We must be the change we wish to see in the world,” succinctly captures the spirit and message of Hoelting’s book. What Hoelting seeks to change is no small issue: The Circumference of Home is an inspirational calling to reexamine how we live in the face of global climate change and to reconnect with our local landscapes.

When environmentalist Kurt Hoelting took an online carbon footprint survey after watching Al Gore’s documentary An Inconvenient Truth, he learned to great surprise and dismay that his carbon footprint was more than twice that of the average American (which, is already ten times that of the world average). Under closer examination, he found that frequent jet travel accounted for the majority of his carbon footprint, undermining the rest of his efforts to live in a sustainable way. Confronted with such a dichotomy between his beliefs and the reality of his actions, Hoelting felt trapped in a quandary because he depended on such travel for both his livelihood and for staying in touch with loved ones. Yet he wondered, “If I can’t change my own life in response to the greatest challenge now facing our human family, who can? And if I won’t make the effort to try, why should anyone else?”  Determined to align his actions with his values, Hoelting decided that he could “turn necessity for change into an opportunity for adventure.” He chose to spend one year exploring the area within a 62-mile radius of his home on Whidbey Island, Washington, traveling only by foot, bicycle, kayak, and public transit. His adventures include walking 130 miles through the Skagit River basin, biking 500 miles around his home circumference, attempting to climb Mt. Baker, and kayaking 200 miles round-trip from his home to a ceremonial Native American canoe rendezvous.

It is far easier to resolve cognitive dissonance through rationalization than corrective action, so Hoelting’s response displays a rare kind of courage. I must confess that initially I wondered whether or not Hoelting’s experiment was just a pretentious stunt, a gimmick. These doubts gradually disappeared, however, and by the time I was halfway through the book I was completely won over by the earnestness of his quest.

It is the way Hoelting conveys the inner as well as the outer journey that takes place over his “year in circumference” that is so compelling. Hoelting often refers to his journey as “a pilgrimage of homecoming,” and in the truest sense, it is. As he explores the area within the boundary of his home circle, powered by his own means, he develops a greater connection to the landscape and he feels an even deeper sense of purpose in his actions. Traveling more slowly also turns out to have many benefits: Hoelting’s mind and body slow down from a frenetic modern pace to one attuned with nature, and the time he spends in transit becomes “time lived rather than time lost.”

The Circumference of Home is foremost an inspirational read, not a guide or a solution manual for sustainable living.  Hoelting emphasizes that he did not write it with the intention of it being a “blueprint” for others to follow. Nor does he present himself as an expert on climate change or bombard the reader with statistics. He writes that his book is “for those who, like [himself], already accept the reality of climate change and our human role in causing it, yet remain perplexed how to respond.”

 
  

Julie Wnuk holds a degree in Biology from Hiram College and spent several seasons working as botany technician for Ohio's Wayne National Forest. She resides in Portland, Oregon, where she enjoys hiking and learning the ecology of the Pacific Northwest. Often finding herself on the fence between pursuing graduate studies or the life of a vagrant explorer, her current goal is to become a certified Master Naturalist.
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The Circumference of Home: One Man's Yearlong Quest for a Radically Local Life

By Kurt Hoelting

   Da Capo Press
   2010
   288 pages
   ISBN 978-0306817748

 
     
    
  
 
     
    
  
 
   

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