Jeff Ryan, Author & Speaker

Quetico Sunset

A Watershed Moment

Yesterday I was driving across eastern Canada on my way to begin researching my third book. The last few days I had been transitioning into the northern forest mindset I needed to embrace to make this book come alive. A thousand mile drive allows ample moments for musing, even more so when your route takes you well north of the U.S. Metroplex.

The country here is stunning. Millions of conifers. Thousands of lakes and streams. And in between, thousands of people making their living from the forests, sands and streams (hunting, fishing, camping, concrete and hydroelectric power are all major employers). And there are surprises, too.

My morning behind the wheel had barely started when a large, very healthy wolf trotted across the road in front of me. I’m guessing I was far more thrilled with the encounter. He seemed intent, if not in a hurry, to get back into the woods

Less than an hour later, another mammal. This time, a moose. Crashes happen with regularity here, so I made sure she was also forest bound before I continued.

I had not done as much pre-trip research as I had hoped. The first night out I was too tired from driving to read. That had changed on nights two and three. Slowly, I was able to leave the “world of the non-book” in the rear view mirror. And my new project started filling more of my horizon.

Writing a book, like building anything capable of surviving the ravages of time, requires a period of intense “nothing else-ness”. You need to create the conditions for the project to take up residence in your brain, while deftly escorting unwanted guests (competing projects and obligations) off the premises. I admire writers who can do this for a hour or two a day. I have never been able to do it. I prefer large blocks of solitude. Fortunately, I’ve been able to carve them out.

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As I drove through the great green north, I felt the transformation into “nothing else-ness” taking root. I began thinking of the people who explored and settled here. What it took to fashion a livelihood or even survive. And I began jotting ideas in my mind.

Around 3:00 in the afternoon, I saw a scenic turnout to my left. A big sign announced that from this spot, all waters flowed north into the arctic watershed. “Kind of like my book”, I said out loud to the trees, the wolves and the moose. From here on, I knew the rivulets of ideas would all be flowing toward a place I really wanted to explore.

Jeffrey H Ryan is an author, adventurer, photographer and historian. He has written several books about his outdoor exploits, his fascination with hiking trails and the people and places found just off the beaten path. His debut book, Appalachian Odyssey: A 28-year hike on America's trail was hailed by the former Executive Editor of National Geographic as "a classic of nature and travel writing" and set off a national tour (in a 1985 VW camper, no less). His books are known for weaving a deep appreciation for history into walks across contemporary landscapes that give readers the feeling they are hiking right alongside. When Jeff isn't trekking, chasing down a great story or spinning yarns from his keyboard, he enjoys sharing his adventures with audiences who love the outdoors. He spends much of his time in his beloved native state of Maine.


  • June 5, 2017

    Enjoy the journey and the “nothing-elseness.”


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