Book Reviews August 2010

Never Land: Adventures, Wonder And One World Record In A Very Small Plane
W. Scott Olsen
University of Nebraska Press, 2010, 187 pages

Writing in Never Land, Scott Olsen deftly carries us into the air over mid-Western America. He allows us to see the “place” he calls home from the unique perspective of the left seat in his small Cessna while flying a thousand feet or so above the ground. Having spent some time in small planes exploring my “home space” from the air, I can identify with Olsen’s perspective. Most readers will enjoy that perspective even if they haven’t experienced it.

In his Prologue, Olsen claims, “Only the airship pilot can look up and find a universe larger than his ability to dream it.” Never Land proves that the “airship pilot can” find that place. My experience tells me that the airship pilot is not the only one who can find it. Reading the works of Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking I’m sure they’ve all been there. I have heard adventurers like Ed Hillary and Reinhold Messener voice similar perspectives.

Finally, I find in pleasure flying an ethical issue; small, single engine aircraft consume fuel at a rate right comparable to the largest SUVs. That puts pleasure flying in the same category as driving your monster SUV down to the farmers market to buy a bag of locally grown, organic carrots. The end is just, but does that justify the means.

As I have noted, reading this book churned up many conflicting emotions. Already an expensive “sport,” pleasure flying will become more elitist as the true cost of oil becomes embedded in the price of fuel and aviation gasoline prices soar.

To end on a more positive note, all small craft pilots will find Never Land a pleasing, possibly nostalgic, read. Those who have not experienced flight at a level where you can wave at people on the ground and see them wave back will find a whole new world to contemplate. Finally, the quality of Olsen’s writing is exemplary; his prose, at times lyrical, and is a joy to read.

Stan Miller


Just Passin’ Thru
Winton Porter
Menasha Ridge Press, 2009, 272 pages

Those that thru-hike the Appalachian Trail MUST earn a trail name—a nickname of sorts to use along the way, to sign into various guestbooks and logbooks, even to chat on AT-themed websites.

“Almost forgot, I gave him a trail name. Di-Puts. I told him it was the name of a great Cherokee hunter who was so fast that he could snare a leaping rabbit in full sprint with his own hands.”

“You think he’s figured it out yet?”

“That it spells stupid backwards? Not a chance.”

That crumb of dialogue is simply one of hundreds of humorous moments that happened one season at Mountain Crossings deep in the woods at Walasi-Yi in northern Georgia. With humor and wit, Winton Porter captures an outdoor reality with this memoir that few people can comprehend. The Appalachian Trail actually passes through a breezeway right between his house and his outdoor store on Blood Mountain, and the parade of characters Just Passin’ Thru is unmatched.

The heritage and the significance of the Trail unfolds little by little in each chapter, keeping pace with the quirky staff and the unusual locals. But it’s the circumstances of the hikers that give the story its legs, and just when you think something more bizarre can’t possibly happen—it does. Without giving too much away, the time the dog brings a boot containing a human foot to the store is not the strangest event. And you will never believe what the retired Louisiana police officer does.

Winton Porter has been described as a backpack-purging, tent-selling, hostel-running, first-aid-dispensing, lost-kid-finding, argument-settling, romance-fixing, chili-making shopkeeper. He can now add genius-storyteller to the list thanks to this brilliant narrative. Just Passin’ Thru shows the best and the worst of hikers, young and old, in glory and failure; and it continually proves that you never can tell what’s right around the corner until you go and see for yourself.

Jon Jonckers

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