Cover image of Deep Wild Volume 1, 2019.

New Journal Takes Readers Back to Nature

A Review of Deep Wild, Volume 1, 2019, by Teresa McCarthy


“The mountains don’t care how long you wait for something”

“Ascension,” by Sheila Thorne, (Deep Wild, Issue 1, 2019, p 61).

Deep Wild: Writing from the Backcountry is a brand new literary journal that invites writers and artists with an enthusiasm for the outdoors to offer accounts of exploring the natural world through poetry, nonfiction narratives, and a few miscellaneous genre pieces. This first volume was published in 2019, and plans are to publish annually. This journal embraces a balance of appealing to a deeply formed community of backcountry explorers yet provides pieces that are able to resonate with city-dwellers (like myself) who will find beauty in escaping from the scenes of everyday life. For the contributors and potential readers of this journal, these mountaintop moments are not a respite from the real world. These exploratory experiences are as real as it gets, and it is this authenticity that drives the artful success of Deep Wild.

The central genre of the journal is non-fiction, and it is in these pieces where the writers reveal the backcountry experience in its fullness. However, poetry still plays an integral role, and examples like the following from “Curve of the Klamath” drive home the religiosity of nature, particularly in its silence and escape: “There are singular moments in our lives that uproot us / that pull us by our stalks and shake us / just enough to let settle new dirt” (60). Even more explicitly, in “Church Was,” the final line of the issue’s concluding piece, reads the true creed of the backcountry experience: “God was no / angry old man in the sky, this much was obvious, and church no / house built by human hands” (121). This volume is filled with these simple moments where the writers express a shared awe for the natural world.

The visual layout of the journal follows this pattern of simplicity – a plain font printed on speckled paper pays subtle homage to a travel journal. Although at first flip-through I was skeptical of a journal so centered around place not including any photographs, I grew to appreciate their absence, as photographs would detract from the power the words are able to take on their own. In fact, images of any kind are scarce in this edition, limited to a series of drawings in the middle of the journal and a handful of black and white graphics at the end of some non-fiction pieces. The drawings are a perfect way to tie in stunning visuals of the outdoors in a simple way: they are rooted in the same personal moments with nature as the written pieces, and as such maintain the authenticity of the communal outdoor experience. The black and white nature graphics that complement the literary pieces throughout, on the other hand, seem like an afterthought. They do little to clarify the setting in a way that the contributors’ words have not, and are confusingly abstract. While the series of sketches were able to speak to an entire journal of backcountry experiences, the black and white graphics are simply not able to do this work in as meaningful of a way.

I would also suggest further reflection about the specific outdoor activities the editorial team chooses to select pieces about. In the foreword, editor Rick Kempa boasts the journal’s drawing on experiences from various backcountry settings. Although the reflections in the journal are vastly unique, backpacking and hiking are by far the dominant experiences relayed, particularly in the non-fiction pieces. Some of this repetition may be due to the infancy of the journal, and at this point it is probably drawing submissions from a smaller audience. As the journal grows, editions would benefit from more diverse narratives, such as “Ascension,” a fictional piece that chronicles a couple’s anniversary ski trip. These more unique outdoor experiences convey the beauty of nature in a refreshing way: “The snow fell in sheets that whipped and whirled in gusts of wind. In one sense, the world had shrunk, but in another sense it was a new kind of distance, without horizon” (67). The journal thrives from its putting non-fiction on a pedestal, and adding too many fiction pieces would cheapen the authenticity of the communal experience. However, the variety that “Ascension” and it’s fictional counterpart “Promise” provide are meaningful particularly as an outsider to the community.

Overall, I am looking forward to seeing how Deep Wild grows and evolves in its coming publications. As an outsider who is not deeply invested in hiking and backpacking specifically, I appreciate getting to vicariously live through all that the backcountry has to offer. As the journal publishes more editions and the pool of contributors grows, it would benefit from including more diverse non-fiction pieces as well. The pieces in this edition set a commendable precedent of authenticity that will ideally, with an even more diverse set of outdoor narratives, become a guarantee for every avid backcountry adventurer that they see themselves reflected in this journal. Yet even in remaining true to its target audience, I predict this journal will do as incredible a job of appealing to outsiders as it did for me, forming a beautiful relationship between lovers of the backcountry and the literary community.

Teresa McCarthy is a senior at Gonzaga University, studying English Writing and Secondary Education. “New Journal Takes Readers Back to Nature” is her first published piece. She enjoys writing and reading poetry, and hopes to share that love with her students one day. She is from Gilroy, CA.