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Book Review: Doyle Hollister’s ‘I Only Went Out for a Walk’

A Man Reconnects with His Wilderness Soul

Doyle Hollister sits atop his horse, Tico.
Courtesy Photo

In 1980, 15 years after he’d left as a teenager, Doyle Hollister returned home and walked across a steep coastal bluff west of Gaviota. His life changed in that moment, as he watched a blue-winged teal fly over the slough at the mouth of Santa Anita Canyon. As a boy, he’d hunted ducks around the same estuary on his family’s renowned ranch.

Hollister’s new, deeply personal memoir ― I Only Went Out for a Walk: Finding My Wilderness Soul on a California Ranch ― describes the transformative power of a connection with the land, especially during one’s youth. Some of the best parts of this short book are Hollister’s evocative descriptions of a boy’s intimacy with rural solitude ― frenzied joyrides clutching high, wind-whipped eucalyptus branches; gusts of shin-stinging beach sand; dark, moonless nights; unexpected thunderstorms; hunting crossbred deer on the San Julian ridge; and the classic western symphony of cow, cowboy, terrain, and Tico, Hollister’s horse.

As a man in his thirties, Hollister’s walk over his boyhood hunting fields stirred in him feelings of loss and grief — awakening long-dormant wounds arising out of an abrupt teenage separation from what he describes as his wilderness ranch soul. The concluding sections of the book describe Hollister’s psychological journey of reconnection. He chronicles feelings of anger; an immersion into silence; mentoring from his aunt and uncle, Jane Hollister and Joseph Wheelwright; and a reunification with his past.

Hollister’s journal illuminates regional and global patterns and challenges. As he explains, “The memoir is about what happens to us as humans if we disconnect from the wilderness. If we don’t pay attention to the wild and reconnect to it from our self-exiling unconsciousness, if we don’t reconnect our interior nature to our physical nature, our planet, we’re terminal.”

Hollister lives today in a mountaintop perch overlooking Point Conception, Southern California’s wildest corner, on rugged land where his family has lived and worked for 150 years. He has keen vision both outward and inward, and the reader is fortunate to share his walk.

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