BOOK REVIEW (& Giveaway): Closer to the Ground


Closer to the Ground: An outdoor family’s year on the water, in the woods and at the table, by Dylan Tomine (Ventura, CA: Patagonia Books, 2012), 230 pp.

Outdoor writer Dylan Tomine recounts his family’s experiences being connected to the land through the seasons at their home on an island in Puget Sound, Washington. The book is organized by season, beginning appropriately with new beginnings in the Spring. Dylan, his wife Stacy, and two children Skyla and Weston, though not “off the grid,” make an effort to glean what they can from their natural surroundings. They garden, chop wood, forage for mushrooms, fish, crab, and sweat through the hard work to include oysters and clams on their dinner table. As a father, Dylan stresses to his children the importance of knowing where they live and the nature that abounds in their neighborhood, be it the types of trees or species of birds. Beautifully enhanced by minimalist papercut art from Nikki McClure, Closer to the Ground is about being warm and being cold, getting dirty and getting cleaned up, and most important, being rewarded with the fruits of their labor. Feeling the warmth of fire only possible because of dad’s back-breaking work of splitting and hauling wood. Enjoying a plentiful and varied dinner only because mom tends her garden and the kids help their dad forage, fish, clam, and crab. In the end, however, it does not matter if they caught any fish, or found any mushrooms. What matters is that they tried together.

This is a wonderful book. As a parent who loves being outside with my kids, I found much to enjoy in Tomine’s words, although I don’t think I could find the time to do all he does with his kids. Tomine was in Portland recently to read from his book at Powell’s in Beaverton, and I was sad to have missed it.

The giveaway:

To enter for a chance to win a copy of Closer to the Ground, please comment on this post telling me what your favorite activity to do outside with your kids is/was or what you remember doing outside with your parents or grandparents. From the entries I will randomly pick a winner. The contest will be open until Sunday, December 23rd, midnight PST. If you would like to enter without commenting, you can send me an email at darwinsbulldog AT gmail DOT com. Good luck!

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17 Responses to BOOK REVIEW (& Giveaway): Closer to the Ground

  1. Renee Crowell says:

    “Closer to the Ground” sounds like such a wonderful book! My most sweetest memories with your grandfather, Michael are always ones that took place outdoors. To share a few…at night before bedtime he would go outside with us and show us the stars and the constellations, walking up in the foothills above Glendora, while all along the path he would educate me on the species of the trees, flowers, fungi, insects, birds, etc…took me along to so many of his rockhound meetings where I learned the beauty inside a geode. My list could go on and on, but I will end with my sweetest memories of butterfly hunting with my father in Washington state where we were stationed in the military. It was a pretty big deal when he gifted to me my very own butterfly net! So many wonderful memories with your grandfather, my father. It has been ten years since his passing, but the knowledge and love of nature he gave to me will be with me till I leave this beautiful planet and hopefully my memories will become ones for you to share with your children, Patrick and Afton. ~Mom

  2. Mel says:

    Looks like a great book! My favorite things to do outside with my kids are cross-country skiing and hiking. But, just messing around by a creek is pretty good, too. Thanks for hosting this giveaway!

  3. Michelle says:

    This sounds like a great book, I will have to check it out. My favorite thing to do outdoors with my kids would probably be mushroom hunting, or just playing in a river. All of my favorite memories from when I was a child involve being outside, although I didn’t have outdoorsy parents. Exploring at the beach, playing in water, tending a friend’s garden, camping as a girl scout.

  4. My favorite childhood outdoor memories involve our “special spot” in the hills of Central Washington. We would drive way out in the boonies and hang out at the creek all day. We’d wade in the creek, build dams, catch water creatures, and come home muddy and tired with handfuls of treasures.

  5. Bryan L. says:

    The favorite thing I like to do is help my kids grow there own snacks. I built each of them their own raised bed and let them choose what they want to grow then I help them tend their plot until harvest time. We also go on bicycle adventures while we wait for their food to grow.

  6. Lauren says:

    When I was a child we took a lot of trips to our great National Parks. I really think that had a significant and lasting impact on me. Thanks for running the contest, would love to check out this book!

  7. Satsuki Ina says:

    I grew up in a section of San Francisco that I later learned was a ghetto. We had asphalt playgrounds at school and our play equipment was a piece of chalk to play hopscotch. Sometimes we would climb billboards that were stuck on mounds of dirt where a building once stood or tied strips of slate to the bottom of our shoes to skate down the concrete streets. But every once in awhile my mom and dad would leave their hard physical work behind, pack a lunch of rice balls and pickles and we would drive to the outskirts of the city to a place mysteriously called “Muscle Rock.” There we would each carry our fishing poles, lunch bags, blankets, frying pan and climb down a steep embankment to the sandy beach. While my brothers and dad set up their poles, I danced happily making circles with my bare feet in the wet sand, smelling the bacon my mom was frying in a pan over the fire. I will always be a city girl (almost 70 now), but those escapes to the cold and salty air with no boundaries are treasured memories of my childhood.

  8. Don Thimsen says:

    When I first picked up Closer to the Ground and flipped through the book, I thought this might be
    something similar to a Garrison Keillor collection of short stories. Wrong! The short stories are
    the glue that holds together the themes of the book – getting away from our urban existence without
    actually leaving its benefits behind, being a kid and seeing the world through their eyes, and
    honoring the past and past generations through food gathering and preparation of meals.

    Closer to the Ground is a pleasure to read. Thomas McGuane wrote the forward for Dylan’s book.
    I’m a big McGuane fan, but even he could take a lessons from Mr. Tomine about the structure of
    writing a book.

    My outdoors experience with kids story… Fourteen years ago, I made a similar decision to give my
    children a chance to get closer to nature. We purchased a beach cottage on a small NC island.
    The house is on the sound and has shallow water flats right out the back door. One day my two
    youngest (4 and 6 at the time) brought in a bucket containing a huge blue crab. This turned into
    an adventure for the parents when we all decided how to best prepare the crab for the table,
    and then later got to listen to the kids compare the crab legs to McDonalds fries.

  9. Pete says:

    My dad instilled in my a love of the outdoors – hunting, fishing, and foraging. We still hunt mushrooms every spring and summer.

  10. Gary Bulla says:

    Beach camping has always been part of our family life.

  11. christy says:

    Backpacking to a site deep into nature is my favorite thing to do with the kids. Tomorrow, we’re going sledding and snow shoeing. That’s pretty fun too.

  12. Wes says:

    Back when I was younger, my dad had always made sure that our summer’s would be spent in the backyard garden creating sustainable food would provide for an entire year. The scent of mud, fertilizer, and fresh vegetables covered the air and still brings me back to those days.

  13. Abby says:

    This book looks awesome. My kids and I love to play, run, skip, sneak, camp, make fire, hide, build, etc. in nature. Thanks for this opportunity!

  14. Christie says:

    Searching for nature, of course! Nature, for my kid, can mean any of the following: snails, slugs, bugs, butterflies, dinosaurs, leaves, trees, and cats.

  15. Some of our favorite things to do outside is going for a bike ride, gardening, camping, going for a hike, but really, just being outside we know something will come up, and probably something we hadn’t planned on. That’s the fun part!
    Thanks for the chance.

  16. Diana says:

    When I was a child I lived in a home that backed onto a forested creek area that was later turned into a highway. My dad used to take myself and my three sisters out for nature walks. We had an amazing time turning rocks over, finding snakes among the tall grasses, peering into the shallow creek to see what lived there and hiking along the trail that seemed to never end. When we got home for lunch we would alway return with an arrangement of lovely wildflowers for my mom and she would set them in a vase with fresh water and set them on the table. In winter, we would shovel out a patch of snow in the woods just beyond our home and get the hose out, add more water and wait until it froze. We would skate on the ice for hours until our toes froze. Then, we would run indoors to drink hot coco and warm our toes by the fire.

  17. darwinsbulldog says:

    And the winner is…… Abby! Congratulations. Thank you all for your comments!

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