In 2007 Kathryn Aalto, along with her husband and three children, moved from an idyllic 20-acre property outside Seattle to Exeter, England.
“I was grief stricken that we’d left this wonderful landscape,” Aalto said. “The second or third day in Exeter, I stumbled across a book on walking.” Before long, the family was clocking in miles ambling through the “very ancient landscape” in southwest England in which they’d found themselves.
Along the way, she was reading classic literature with her children, including A.A. Milne’s two Winnie-the-Pooh books. “I was curious about whether there was a real Christopher Robin and a real hundred-acre wood,” Aalto said.
Trained as a landscape historian, Aalto began her research. The result is “The Natural World of Winnie-the-Pooh: A Walk Through the Forest that Inspired the Hundred Acre Wood,” published this fall.
“The hundred-acre wood is a fictional landscape, but it was based on the real landscape called Ashdown Forest, which is located between London and Brighton,” Aalto said. Spread over 6,000 acres, it’s a mixture of woodlands and heathlands — the heath is covered in gorse, the prickly bush into which a certain clumsy bear is likely to fall.
What struck Aalto was the freedom Milne gave his son to wander alone in nature and the stories that resulted. “In some ways I read the stories as kind of a field guide for the free-range child, because that’s what I wanted for our children,” she said. “I think that Milne had the same intention. In fact, I don’t think he’d recognize modern childhood so much.”
Aalto will read twice today, at 2 p.m. at the Arnold Arboretum, and at 7 p.m. at Harvard Book Store.