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Book Review: MaryJane's Outpost - Unleashing Your Inner Wild

Newsday, Long Island and Queens, July 2008

I'll skip the tips on hunting and butchering the meat, but a lot of other advice in MaryJane's Outpost: Unleashing Your Inner Wild is delightful.

Author MaryJane Butters was once a wildlife ranger. Now she runs an organic farm in Idaho and has brought together a lot of different ideas on enjoying and participating in the great outdoors, even if the only outdoors you want to try is just your backyard.

Her advice comes in three main sections: Outbound, meaning going out to the yard, engaging children in the outside world, making natural gifts and creating family rituals, such as the simple act of having tea outside; outrigged, meaning weekend camping and picnics, enjoying fishing or hunting; and outstepping, meaning backpacking, enjoying wild foods, being safe in the water and wild and outdoor jobs.

The practical advice alternates with lyrical thinking. She suggests we crank up our imagination, driving an old truck out into the woods, putting up an awning, buying from a bait shop and fishing from a stream. She writes well and easily evokes a pastoral scene because of her own experiences.

But she comes right back with discussions of zoning codes that bar the raising of chickens; recipes for a wide range of foods, such as cinnamon popcorn, quinoa desserts, milk punch, venison heart and veggie muffins, among many others; items needed for an emergency road kit and how to avoid dehydration.

The people and places she writes about vary, well, wildly. She tells the story of a New York City architect who claimed the tar roof as outdoor space for himself, turning it into a campground with a tent and outdoor shower. Occasionally, his team uses the space for meetings and parties; sometimes the architect uses it for a sleep getaway.

That contrasts pretty sharply with her account of her own hunting and eating venison heart. Or taking a bath in the woods.

But it’s all really fun and exciting stuff, whether you choose to take all the steps or just want to sample an idea or two.

This book also emphasizes women’s roles and interests, with commentary on how people seem a bit intimidated by women who hunt; women who lead their families on wildlife treks, including ways of including babies and toddlers; camps and tours for women who want to learn more about the outdoors and so on. There’s a generational sense, with photos from people camping in the 1950s, of the author with her baby on a trek in 1980, next to a picture of that grown “baby” then taking her child into the wild.

This is not precisely a how-to book, though there are plenty of specific guides on how to accomplish certain tasks or create an item or meal. It’s more a celebration of a different kind of life than most of us know, rooted in this author’s experiences and joy of the outdoors. It evokes the past while putting us in real, contemporary life, with a look at the future with its suggestions of reducing our use of non-local products and food. So there’s something for everyone here.