By Connie Leinbach
Pat Garber’s new book is a deep dive into her young adult years as filtered through a later, solitary year spent in the Adirondack Mountains in upstate New York.
Her book’s title, “The Birchbark Chronicles: An Adirondack Journal,” does not adequately reflect the reading pleasures within—a picaresque tale of a young woman’s travels alongside her journal reflections 30 years later during a solitary sojourn in the mountains.
Garber, whose primary home is on Ocracoke, has, for almost 20 years, spent summers in the Adirondack wilderness.
At the beginning, she relates how she took some bark from a birch tree with the idea of recording her journal on the parchment-like tree skin, just like ancient scribes. She made a few entries but soon reverted to a word processor.
Garber’s elegant prose ably conjures both her adventures of the past and the soothing wilderness in which she immersed herself from 2002 to 2003.
“Yellow goatsbeard and orange hawkweed are scattered along the trail as if a sky queen had emptied out her jewelry box” is just one example of her skill in painting prose pictures.
Garber is known on the island for her love of nature and her contributions to the Ocracoke literary canon, available in shops all over the island.
In this self-published autobiography, her readers will get a different view of this mild-mannered woman as she bares her soul–peeling back the layers of time when, in her 20s in the late 1960s and early 1970s, she wandered the world trying to find her purpose and navigating a tumultuous, ultimately failed, marriage.
She revisited the formative times with her late ex-husband where the pair often found themselves running from the law and scraping by with odd jobs here and there.
In the preface, she writes how as a child, she dreamed about being many people and living different lives, and in these pages, she does just that.
She grew up in a happy family outside of Richmond, Virginia, in the mid-20th century and came of age as unrest among the youth in the late 1960s upended the status quo.
Garber doesn’t hold back descriptions of her youthful life post-high school.
Fortunately, she didn’t go off the deep end, but watching others do so, particularly one of her beloved sisters, compelled her to “run away,” as she says, to overcome the pain.
Enamored of Woody Guthrie and wanting not wealth but “something more meaningful from life,” she dreamed of “becoming a hobo” in one of the subchapters.
There follows a story about hitchhiking to New York while her family thought she was elsewhere.
She is interested in the downtrodden and sometimes experienced the sting of discrimination and the hardships of poverty—sleeping in unlocked cars, knocking on random doors for help, escaping unwanted male advances.
Between calmer passages about the natural world and small community of Long Lake, New York, she recounts her youthful journeys crisscrossing the United States; going to England and Paris; crewing on boats in the Bahamas; picking pears with migrant workers; living in different places out West including a Native American archeological dig.
How many 20-something women these days would strike out alone hitchhiking? Garber hitchhiked frequently and reveals that while spending about five months in the Cotswolds of England, after losing her tennis shoes she went barefoot, a head-scratcher to her English acquaintances.
In another amusing anecdote she describes what happened when she had to purchase shoes in Paris.
There are many such entertaining tales through which, as she says in her preface, she hopes others “might learn and profit from my failures and my triumphs.”
The book is available at Books to Be Red on the island and online at Amazon.com.