Book Review

To read Paul Lindholdt’s Interrogating Travel is to receive a wellspring of lived experience about traveling the land and seas of planet Earth: this blue marble floating in space, our “home globe.” Having passed the critical carbon marker point of 4.24 ppm in May of 2023, we find it increasingly difficult to remain optimistic about the future for our children and their children. Yet Lindholdt’s book does not depress. It is a page-turner enlivened by vivid imagery, imagistic prose, and epic descriptions of place. Three sections: “Among the Beloved,” “Among the Predatory,” and “Among the Indigenous,” lay out parameters for the many and varied exploitations of planet Earth.

Throughout the work, there is a conspiratorial closeness to the reader. He states in the introduction, “As I began to write this book, I promised myself it would not travel-shame.” Determined not to preach, Lindholdt is clear that he has participated in jetting around the globe. “Ecologies are not the only sad casualties of travel to catch at my attention. Indigenous people everywhere are feeling desperate when tourist and energy-development pressures overrun their societies. . . .” Jet fuel is a major cause of climate change, we learn. Jet fuel is not taxed, and only eleven percent of the global population can afford international travel.

Chapter one, “The Spray and the Slamming Sea,” is a gut-punch: “Water has two moods: life and death.” While narrating the death of his firstborn son Braden, the author finds a way to integrate the environment into his personal grief. Just as Momaday encouraged “reciprocal appropriation,” he speculates that Braden “respectfully surrender[ed] to the landscape”—in this case, the seascape. Lindholdt mentions his son’s knowledge of the fierce tides and weather at Larrabee Beach in the Salish Sea, the place where he went missing, yet Braden and a friend chose to not wear PFDs that day.

There is humility following the loss parents fear most—that their offspring will die before them. He invokes the Passover and literary allusions: “The Ancient Mariner is a sonorous swatch of sorrow about the sea.” Describing the insomnia and PTSD that accompanies such a profound loss, he takes the environment seriously, interrogating the power of the sea that took his son in much the same way as his cross-examination of jet travel in the introduction. The sounding out becomes a catechism of healing in prose compressed and poetic: “Sleep returns after two months. It knits back my tattered sleeves.”

In Chapter four, “Shrub-Steppe, Pothole, and Ponderosa Pine,” the reader experiences the dry side of Washington State. As a child, Lindholdt went on outings with his father to eastern Washington. The “traffic racket” of the coast is well described. “The I-5 corridor, that great transportation artery of the west—brooded over my bent world when I was young.”

Chapter eight, “My Climate Change,” the crux of the book and its issues, personalizes the ecological crises here on “spaceship earth.” The Anthropocene is not a remote academic concept; it is a deeply felt cataclysm in which we are perpetrators and victims alike. Those who come under scrutiny—and there are many, including ExxonMobil and railways hauling coal—have complex motivations and gnarly rationales. As with others, this chapter grabs the reader via Lindholdt’s personal narrative of “throttling my motorcycle across the Columbia Plateau. . . .” His chance glance to the east reveals “smoke lifting from the hilltop where we live!” Upon seeing this, he does a 180 and heads towards home, stopping on the way only to answer his cell phone, as the neighbors are wondering whether he and his family will have to evacuate. The answer remains unknown, increasing the stress of climate change in eastern Washington.

Lindholdt has no patience with climate change deniers, those skeptical of “human-brewed pollution.” His case is well made: “Human vectored climate change is an ice age in reverse,” an insight that is followed by cross-examination to reveal the new norms for living in tandem with fires such as the Houston Fire he came home to. Some people irrigate their nasal passages to assuage irritated sinuses, but most “breathers” cannot flee to find relief. A malicious cycle is well described: “If spent fuels from polluting industries including travel are heating up the planet . . . if they [are] driving regional droughts and causing ever hotter fires . . . then the causes are reciprocal. Pollution causes more wildfires, and wildfires causes more pollution.” As critical thinkers and climate change believers, we know this truth at our cores.

But to have events integrated by this author’s experience of living for decades in inland Washington brings the seriousness of catastrophic climate change closer and more difficult to refute. The anthropogenic era found its culmination in the pandemic. For two years, we were forced not to travel. The skies cleared. It’s a simple logic, coupled with a political overview that considers varied interests, including the NIMBY folks, the loggers, the climate activists, and the Volkswagen builders. The author circles back to complete the tale: “We hoped for rain. . . . When it came raindrops atomized the dust and flung it in the air like miniature atomic bombs.”

In “Among the Indigenous”—traveling with his wife Karen, an attorney, former lifeguard, and adventure-seeker—the author recounts many trips with and without their two surviving sons. These journeys include the Kona coast of Hawaii, the Caribbean (during the Mayan Apocalypse, which he deftly weaves into a narrative of Belize and its iguanas), the Columbia River, the coastal Pacific Northwest, Koh Lipe in Thailand, and Tahiti. Whether reluctantly or willingly traveling, he quizzes and debriefs the travel industry and its impacts on the environment. At the same time, he exhorts himself to try to enjoy the privilege. “Focusing on the pollution, sea rise, or tourism-marginalized Indigenous folks will make me a bad companion . . .” He resorts to Buddhism, cuts off from Wi-Fi, lives in the present, enters the flow. These coping mechanisms come in only towards the end of the book, a fact not lost on this reader.

One of the things I most admire is Lindholdt’s distinction between vertical and horizonal travel. Ecstatic dance, physical movement, and the hormones of endorphins and oxytocin are explored in Chapter six: “Ecstasy, Euphoria, Transport.” There are ways to move and be moved that do not require planes, trains, and automobiles. That do not further pollute. I was disabled due to a pedestrian accident when I was young, and am no longer able to “cross the pond,” so I appreciate this take on the subject. His is an “emotional geography [that] meanders through history. . . . My story spells out why so many of us share concerns about the planet’s rivers, the species they harbor, and the quality of water.” The Indigenous people are most impacted, and he delivers a wealth of information about how we are participating in the sixth extinction.

In each of these diverse journeys, some of which he feels dragged to, not kicking and screaming, more in the fashion of realizing the privilege to be able to swim in the turquoise waters of Belize, for instance, the author’s interrogation takes the form of strenuous self- examination: “I’ve come to distinguish between touring and traveling in much the same way I distinguish between hunters and shooters. Travelers settle into foreign experiences and absorb them. Tourists wring the sponge and rush on.”

Ultimately, the reluctant tourist is seen for what he is: unenthusiastic and disinclined. In his transparent, self-effacing style, the reader benefits from his ever-growing resistance to the experience of travel. He is making a trip. One is already underway. He will suffer from insomnia.

The consistency of objective and self-revelatory observations, coupled with an ability to drill deep into human greed, make Interrogating Travel a compelling read. We are left with no pat ending, rather a set of questions and cross-examinations to arrive to our own conclusion regarding travel’s risks and benefits on this lonely life-sustaining “home globe” situated at the edge of a spiral arm in the Milky Way.

About the Reviewer

Judith Skillman’s poems have appeared in Commonweal, Threepenny Review, Zyzzyva, and other literary journals. She has received awards from Academy of American Poets and Artist Trust. Oscar the Misanthropist won the 2021 Floating Bridge Press Chapbook Award. Her recent book is Subterranean Address, Deerbrook Editions. Visit