A Walk Across America by Peter Jenkins
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
When I first started reading this book, I thought it was going to another tale like "Into the Wild" or something. I was a little put off by the way that it was written, judging it by my "high" standards of a well-written book. But as I continued reading and became captivated by the tale, I quickly learned that this was a book unlike any other that I have read. It made me cry on no less than 4 occasions - and they sprang from a gamut of emotions: sadness, happiness, joy, beauty, mourning, and love. Peter Jenkins's walk from Alfred, NY to New Orleans, LA (as this book contains that portion of his walk) enlightened me to the beauties and dangers of our society and to ALL of the people that make up the fabric of this country that we call America.
Jenkins' starts out like any of the myriad of disillusioned, college-educated young people that graduate and gripe about the failures and evils of our country (I know that I fall into that category). But what Peter does that separates him from me is that he takes the advice of a guy that he works with and decides to discover what America is really all about and who really makes up the people of our country. And that decision to go forth and find that answer, with his forever-friend Cooper Half Malamute, begins a journey that takes him from the North to the South, down the Appalachian Trail and along the Gulf Coast until he reaches New Orleans.
In the journey along the way, Peter encounters many, many people - some who's hospitality is beyond belief, and others who's hostility is hard to swallow. One particular encounter in a North Carolina town was so harrowing, I marveled at the fact that he didn't quit his walk right then and there. He learns life lessons from a genuine mountain man in West Virginia, a black family and the rest of the community in Smokey Hollow North Carolina, a commune of people called "The Farm" who lived and worked the land and followed a religion called "Steve", and Governor George Wallace of Alabama - the same one who ordered the police to stop Martin Luther King, Jr.'s walk from Selma to Montgomery, to a revival in New Orleans when God finally found His way into his life. As Peter walks, his prejudices fall by the wayside, and I found that mine fell as well.
It is a testament to the power of his prose that a journey taken in the mid-1970s could still ring so beautifully and so truthfully. Yes, there are dark corners and evils in our country. But what Peter showed me is that there are many, many, MANY more wonderful, hard-working people who seek to etch out a living and in doing so enjoy life to an extent that I hope to know sometime in my lifetime.
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