THERE are those who hold that all great literature is in some sense travel writing. What is more elementary about a story, they reason, than the way it tracks a protagonist from here to there?
Yet if there is one feature that distinguishes travel writing from other literary genres, it is the attitude of the traveler. Travel writers are repeatedly overwhelmed by the world's variety. Diversity may awe or outrage them, but it can never be ignored.
Thus it is that Randy Wayne White, the former Florida fishing guide who now pens the "Out There" column for Outside magazine, can be called a travel writer. As this first compilation of his writing proves, White may not stray as far or as often as other travel writers do, but he's got the appropriate attitude.
Which is not to suggest that the man is impervious to the humor of his own fey delinquencies. Taking on the white-water rapids of North Carolina's Natahala River, equipped with a vintage life preserver pilfered from a small Belizean airline and a canoe so flimsy that it's almost transparent, White maintains a bemused fatalism. This philosphical bent is amply fulfilled as he bobs ever closer to a snarl of water roaring as vocally as "an all-day train wreck."
Eleven years as a fishing guide, placating a sometimes trying assortment of customers, might mute the sensibilities of others. However, time seems to have deepened White's confirmation of his own values, not the least of which is the realization that sensitivity and masculinity can affably coexist.
Reporting on the prestigious Orvis Shooting School at Mays Pond Plantation in northern Florida, he grants that while he enjoys hunting, he is repulsed by the killing and shies away from it. "I am comfortable with the hypocrisy," he admits deliciously, "unless I have to argue the position." But then, White doesn't choose to argue; he just shoots to miss.
Although he has had a continuing relationship with the Outward Bound schools, which attempt to teach self-reliance …