In Brief: The Road to Continental Heart: Befriending, and Defending, the Spirit of North America

By Steven Dale Davison. Boyle & Dalton, 2022. 326 pages. $49.99/hardcover.

This coffee table-style book documents the nine-month walking sojourn of artist George Lawrence, who along with a group of environmental activists explored the continent’s natural and social features while on the Global Walk for a Livable World that took place in 1989–1990. Photos taken by Lawrence on his travels are accompanied by original poems sent to him at weekly intervals by Steven Dale Davison, a Quaker writer and theologian currently living in New Jersey. The volume also includes portions of correspondence between Davison and Lawrence as well as maps and essays.

Davison’s poems are exquisitely descriptive, crafted from research he conducted of each upcoming leg of the walk. The poetry in the chapter “Covenant: San Bernardino to Twentynine Palms” stood out to me as particularly evocative, including this excerpt:

Covenant—the mutual trade of promises—
in the dry-womb matrix of desert life:
. . . all the bleeding,
all the blooming, all the turns
of darkness, cool and blaze of day.

Davison offers background on various terms used in his poems or uncovered in his research. For instance, in a section about Phoenix, Ariz., he notes that the mythical phoenix is a relative of the eagle. Citing mythologist Robert Graves, Davison writes that the ancient Egyptians had six hours and a few minutes left at the end of each solar year. Every 1,460 years, the sun “represented by the phoenix had gathered up a year’s worth of these fragments.” The Egyptians held a festival to mark the correction of the calendar and record it in their annals. According to Greek historian Herodotus, the Egyptians kept eagles captive for the special year, encasing them in myrrh when they died, then burning a living eagle as well as the several that predeceased it.

Described as an “extended love poem for the land we inhabit and an invitation to a vibrant culture of place,” this book offers readers insights into a wonder-evoking journey that could inspire their own learning and travels.

Sharlee DiMenichi is staff writer for Friends Journal.

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