The Bear Went Over the Mountain: Finding America, Finding Myself.
Finding America, Finding Myself
BY CARLL TUCKER
MARY ANN LIEBERT, INC., NEW ROCHELLE, NEW YORK
2008, 279 PAGES, $29.95
At the age of 50, Carll Tucker drove his new 23-foot motor home (nicknamed Migrant) away from his "prestigious" neighborhood in Bedford, N.Y., to spend almost a year cruising the country in an attempt to "find his real self," Tucker, who had been "a small somebody" all his life, wanted to be a "nobody" until he could become "somebody else." He organized "getting away from it all" by planning to visit the final resting places of U.S. presidents and vice presidents and to write a book about what he found. Without preconditioning, he informed his wife of 26 years that he would be gone for nine months or more and "that was that" (Not surprisingly, he since has remarried.) Provisioned with boxes of books and classical music tapes and CDs, he put his RV in gear, and like the bear in the nursery rhyme, he "went over the mountain to see what he could see."
Tucker drove from New York to Pennsylvania and went across the Appalachians, zigzagged through the heartland to the Rockies, followed the Pacific from Los Angeles to Seattle, and returned home via the Great Lakes and New England. After a Christmas respite at home, in January he undertook the "winter leg" of his journey through the Southeast and west to Texas. Eventually he spanned 226 years of history as he visited 65 final resting places in 23 states. Only Nelson Rockefeller's grave site, private and guarded by a sentry, proved a challenge: not to be deterred, Tucker waited until dark, climbed a fence, and took a photograph. In his progress, Tucker visited "hundreds" of historical sites, the usual tourist haunts, residences of the rich and famous, presidential homes, libraries, and anyplace else that struck his fancy.
An editor and publisher of a Bedford newspaper for 19 years, Tucker wrote a weekly column as a "cracker barrel pundit." He also had been the editor and publisher of Trader Publications, editor and publisher of Saturday Review magazine, and a staff writer and theater critic for The Village Voice. His usual routine had been to rise early and write until he was exhausted, and he did the same as he traveled.
As Tucker details information about presidents, vice presidents, their birthplaces, backgrounds, and their paths to office, readers gain fascinating, little-known insights into our nation and its political process. Some presidents derived their power from intellectual conviction, others because the nation was in peril, and still others because they led by example and exhortation. Some were just "nice guys," and a few were corrupt. Tucker considers Abraham Lincoln, his favorite president, a "moral touchstone.... The more we learn of him the greater he grows." He believes Lyndon Johnson did more for America's disadvantaged than any other chief executive.
The Bear Went Over the Mountain is a philosophical documentary tinged with patriotism. Tucker emphasizes how fortunate Americans are to have had great Founding Fathers capable of establishing a new kind of government. He believes the world envies us for the work they did. In the Assembly Chamber of Independence Hall where the Declaration of Independence was signed and the Constitution drafted, Tucker was moved to tears by the enormity of our good fortune and debt to these men for their courage and foresight.
Although his agenda prescribed visits to the graves of presidents and vice presidents (the book includes 32 pages of color photographs of graves), Tucker writes about history, geography, and philosophy. He uses stream of consciousness in presenting opinionated details about grave sites, areas of the country, the rich and famous, the "stupefaction" of America, marriage (including his own), the people he met, even his opinion of KOA accommodations around the country. He writes about religion, especially Mormonism and Episcopalianism--11 former presidents belonged to the Episcopalian church, in which "belief is frowned on as evidence of instability."
Tucker certainly "found" America, but did he find himself? He would answer affirmatively. Although he left home drained of emotion and intellectual vitality and discouraged by what he saw around him, he returned "raring to live." Abandoning the comfortable routine of his pretravel lifestyle, he now wanted "discomfort, strife, and the excitement of exertion." He pledges to live the rest of his life making "every day new."
RAYMOND L. FISCHER
Mass Media Editor