David Robertson, a professor of English at the University of California, Davis, begins this book with a quotation from Jack Kerouac's "Dharma Bums" where Japhy Ryder says, "The closer you get to real matter, rock air fire wood, boy, the more spiritual the world is." The author agrees with those sentiments and is a devotee of writers who have explored the wilderness and then written about their experiences--Fitz Hugh Ludlow, John Muir, Mary Austin, and others. Robertson shares some of his own mountain adventures along with a journey down Highway 50 which he calls "the Vision-Quest Route through the Outback of late-twentieth-century America." These expeditions are attempts to unravel "the secret at the heart of the universe." Gary Snyder, poet and nature mystic, teaches the author to see hiking in the wilderness as a "walking meditation." Along the way, Robertson assesses the meaning of wild places in the Old Testament and has some interesting observations to make about Kerouac's Christianity. In Real Matter nature is a wise spiritual teacher.