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Literature

October 11, 2017
 

A Boy’s Life

The Last Resort
Journal of a Salt River Camp, 1942-43

by John C. Goodlett
introduction by David Hoefer
Murky Press
233 pp.; $12.95

Review by Katherine Dalton

Entire contents copyright © 2017 by Katherine Dalton. All rights reserved

The heart of this book is a journal kept by Lawrenceburg native John C. Goodlett, who would later become a full professor of plant geography at Johns Hopkins University, before his early death in the 1960s. But in 1942-42 he was a young man spending as much of the free time he could spare at a roughhewn cabin he and a friend built on the Salt River in Anderson County. His journal chronicles his adventures fishing, squirrel hunting, and camp cooking with friends in a short period between his late adolescence at home and in college at the University of Kentucky (he was 19 when the journal begins), and his service overseas during World War II, after he was drafted. It also shows his interest in the natural world that would later be translated into a Harvard Ph.D. and a professional life as a teacher and researcher.

There are a still a few Kentucky boys (and maybe a girl or two) who will light out for the creek for a weekend camping and fishing and cooking over a fire, but to many people, spending nights in a shack by the water will seem more foreign than many foreign places. Reading something like the New York Times Book Review you can see that to its editors the most exotic books are not about Turkey or Tierra del Fuego, where they have likely spent a vacation, but the rural U.S., especially the rural South, where they may never have been at all. In any case, life at it might be spent today at another “last resort” is under tremendous pressure from the modern economy and its politics and technology, and even in 1942 it was overshadowed by a distant, but nevertheless very present, war.

Readers who want to capture the flavor of an outdoorsman’s life in this mid-century era of great change will find some snapshots of that life here. Additional materials include some of Goodlett’s letters home during the war (he was among the first liberating troops at an Austrian concentration camp), and a journal kept as a post-doctorate research associate at Harvard Forest in the early 50’s. This book is privately printed with an excellent introduction and notes by University of Louisville adjunct anthropology instructor David Hoefer, and an afterword by Sallie Goodlett Showalter, Dr. Goodlett’s daughter.

 

Katherine Dalton has written for publications ranging from the Wall Street Journal to Harper’s Bazaar, and contributed to the books Wendell Berry: Life and Work  and Conservations with Wendell Berry. She lives in Louisville.

 

 





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