The Animal One Thousand Miles Long
Seven Lengths of Vermont and Other Adventures
Debut collection of essays from a young writer celebrating Vermont
The phrase “an animal a thousand miles miles long,” attributed to Aristotle, refers to a sprawling body that cannot be seen in its entirety from a single angle. For Leath Tonino, that animal is the landscape of his native Vermont. Tonino grew up along the shores of Lake Champlain, situated between Vermont’s Green Mountains and New York’s Adirondacks. His career as a nature and travel writer has taken him across the country, but he always turns his eye back on his home state. “All along,” he writes, “I’ve been exploring various parts of the animal, trying to make a prose map of its body—not to understand it in a conclusive or definitive way but rather to celebrate it, to hint at its possibilities.”
This fragmented yet deep search is the overarching theme of the twenty essays in The Animal One Thousand Miles Long. Tonino posits that geography, natural history, human experience, local traditions, seasons, and especially atypical outings—on skis, bicycles, sleds, and boogie boards—can open us to a place and simultaneously open a place to us. He looks closely at what he calls “huge-small” Vermont, but his underlying mission is to demonstrate our collective need to better understand the meaning of place, especially the places we call home and think we know best. From Laredo to Jackson Hole, San Francisco to Burlington, his sensibility is applicable to us all.
In his signature piece, “Seven Lengths of Vermont,” Tonino traverses the state in seven ways—a twenty-day hike, 500 miles on a bicycle, a thirty-six-ride hitchhiking tour, 260 miles in a canoe, ten days swimming Lake Champlain, a three-week ski trek, and a two-hour “vast and fast” flyover.
As Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods did for the Appalachian Trail and Peter Mayle’s A Year in Provence did for the South of France, Tonino’s affinity for his home gives a new perspective on the Green Mountain State. His infectious love of the outdoors should inspire us to explore the places outside our own front door.
“Anyone who loves Vermont will want this on her bookshelf—a funny, smart, and novel look at the Green Mountains. ”
— Bill McKibben, author of Radio Free Vermont
“In The Animal One Thousand Miles Long, Leath Tonino draws a lyrical map for Vermont with a voice that is part scientist, part poet, part historian, and part adventurer. Tonino’s map shows us not the major cities and highest peaks but the lesser known places and ideas at the heart of Vermont—the abandoned towns, uncommon sports, and forgotten people.”
— Sean Prentiss, author of Finding Abbey
“Leath Tonino brings the same verve to his writing as he does to the mountaineering, winter kayaking, and jack jumping chronicled in this vivid collection. His accounts of headlong adventures in the Champlain bioregion both dazzle a reader with their arresting descriptions and bubble with mirth. But Tonino’s greatest achievement may be conveying how the pursuit of ‘lostness’ in the wilds may offer an experience of home as deep as geology, as thrilling as a sky full of snow geese.”
— John Elder, author of Reading the Mountains of Home and The Frog Run
“This engaging book of dispatches from field and forest shows us Vermont as we’ve never seen it before. Dispelling the notion of wilderness as a western phenomenon, Leath Tonino opens his native Green Mountain State to readers both near and far, revealing the beauty and diversity of this remarkable place. Tonino is the most companionable of trail companions, taking us along on adventures that include mountaineering, sledding, skating, and plenty more. The crescendo of this delightful journey is the extraordinary final chapter, in which the author roves the state from end to end on seven different routes by seven different modes of travel: hiking, hitchhiking, skiing, cycling, canoeing, swimming, and flying in a light aircraft. The result is a surprising, adventurous, openhearted exploration that fully delivers on what Tonino rightly calls the 'inexhaustibility of home.’”
— Michael P. Branch, author of Rants from the Hill and How to Cuss in Western