On The Page: A Bolt From The Blue

When I was hiking with Maryanne and Seth, they recommended that I check out A Bolt From The Blue: The Epic True Story of Danger, Daring, and Heroism at 13,000 Feet. What a great recommendation it was!

A Bolt from the Blue

The book tells the story of a 2003 rescue on Grand Teton. Six climbers attempted the mountain and the party was struck by a bolt of lightning. One climber died immediately but the remaining five climbers needed to be evacuated swiftly before darkness. Fortunately, the Jenny Lake climbing rangers were in charge of the rescue.

Woodlief relates the story of a complicated rescue that could have only been pulled off by some of America’s best high country rescue teams. As someone who has been involved in EMS (and hopes to obtain a wilderness EMT upgrade soon), I was fascinated by how the rangers organized the rescue. The story is absolutely riveting—I finished the book within a day.

If you like stories of the outdoors, adventure, and rescue, A Bolt From the Blue is a great read.

On The Page: Here, There, Elsewhere: Stories from the Road

Here, There, Elsewhere

In college I subscribed to the “free” listserv used mostly by faculty and staff; it was mostly things I didn’t need but occasionally a stack of books would come up for grabs. In the spring of my senior year, as I tried to imagine what I would be doing in my future, one of the offerings was River Horse by William Least Heat Moon. I crawled in my bed early one evening and began to devour his story of Nikawa traveling up the Missouri headed for points west. I savored the stories of the people he met and wanted badly to be part of such a trip. River Horse lead me to discover Blue Highways, priming the way, I like to think, for my desire to get out and see the country.

Castle Valley

Least Heat Moon had become one of those authors (like Tim Egan) that I hardly needed to know the subject matter before I was committed to buying anything they might release so when the opportunity to preorder Here, There, Elsewhere: Stories from the Road for my Kindle popped up under my Amazon suggestions in November I immediately ordered it.

Here, There, Elsewhere is collection of essays that had appeared in various publications between 1983 and 2011. Each essay has a short introduction in which Least Heat Moon gives us some background into the writing of each piece—often noting the ways in which he has revised the essay to remove the influence of an editor’s lack of belief that American readers may have “much capacity or willingness to think critically, just as they believe their audience will not tolerate a vocabulary beyond the basic five or six thousand words in common usage.”

Three Sisters

Essay topics range from the rise of craft beer (“A Glass of Handmade” written in 1985), his youthful attempt to meet William Faulkner (“A Little Tour in Yoknapatawpha County), “Crossing Kansas,” traveling on foot (“With a Good Stick in Hand”), traveling in Scotland (“Just South of Ultima Thule”), to writing (“Writing PrairyErth”). Normally my response to a book I love is to read it through breathlessly, without stopping. In this case, I was drawn to savoring each piece as its own little treat.

Least Heat Moon’s stories of international travel are interesting to me as are the bits about writing, or beer production but his passages about domestic travel—and more specifically, maps—are what have always drawn me to him. Some of my favorite examples of this from Here, There, Elsewhere:

“To me, a road map is the printed lyrics to a siren’s song where highways and rivers are like stanzas, and the little circles indicating towns are notes—some flat, some sharp, a few off-key. To begin a journey is to hunt for its tune, its melody, its harmonics, and to follow along from stanza to stanza is to hum a route from, say, Waxahatchie to Marfa, Shamokin to Altoona.” (“The Here Within There”)

and this:

“But my book of longings was something else, a Rand McNally with its seeming infinitude of highways, country byroads, parkways, and even something new with an old name: a turnpike four-lands wide running through the mountains of Pennsylvania, the home of the most iconic American travel vehicle ever—the Conestoga wagon.” (“Not Far Out of Tullahoma”)

But this tidbit on active travelers really got me. To be a truly active traveler, to get off the beaten track and really absorb the essence of a place—to walk its streets, poke into its dark corners, and really feel it—is what I hope we’re striving to do all the time:

“About then a few Americans, seeing consequences, began trying to turn themselves from passive tourists back into active travelers who explore the genius of a place, searchers for the quiddity of Owyhee Country or Hell Roaring Creek or the Rosebud Reservation, or an alley in Charleston. And as they headed off down some of the abundant and often vacated miles of American two-lane, those travelers started to uncover living fossils: a village still possessed of its mercantile heart, a diner grinding its own coffee beans, a clam shack so good the kid in the backseat stopped thinking of clams as slimy, a neighborhood tavern with a fellow or two who knew why Peculiar Street was so named, a nineteenth-century inn where one could sleep inside history.” (“Not Far Out of Tullahoma”)

Here, There, Elsewhere is another excellent example of Least Heat Moon’s writing—he writes in long sentences often filled with lists and rambling ideas. It is not a single compelling story which can make the verbose lists and long sentences seem slightly tedious, however, as one settles into the cadence of his words, they seem to roll along with the hum of travel.

Mary's Peak

Desert Solitaire Favorites

All quotations from Desert Solitaire by Ed Abbey.

“A weird, lovely, fantastic object out of nature like Delicate Arch has the curious ability to remind us—like rock and sunlight and wind and wilderness—that out there is a different world, older and greater and deeper by far than ours, a world which surrounds and sustains the little world of men as sea and sky surround and sustain a ship. The shock of the real. For a little while we are again able to see, as the child sees, a world of marvels. For a few moments we discover that nothing can be taken for granted, for if this ring of stone is marvelous then all which shaped it is marvelous, and our journey here on earth, able to see and touch and hear in the midst of tangible and mysterious things-in-themselves, is the most strange and daring of all adventures.”

“An increasingly pagan and hedonistic people (thank God!), we are learning finally that the forests and mountains and desert canyons are holier than our churches.”


“A venturesome minority will always be eager to set off on their own, and no obstacles should be placed in their path; let them take risks, for Godsake, let them get lost, sunburnt, stranded, drowned, eaten by bears, buried alive under avalanches—that is the right and privilege of any free American.”

“No wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit, and as vital to our lives as water and good bread. A civilization which destroys what little remains of the wild, the spare, the original is cutting itself off from it’s origins and betraying the principle of civilization itself.”

“If man’s imagination were not so weak, so easily tired, if his capacity for wonder were not so limited, he would abandon forever such fantasies of the supernatural. He would learn to perceive in water, leaves, and silence more than sufficient of the absolute and marvelous, more than enough to console him for the loss of ancient dreams.”

“Feet on earth. Knock on wood. Touch stone. Good luck to all.”

Desert Solitare, Ed Abbey, and Learning to Love The Desert

When I met F almost four years ago, he was sitting in a coffee shop in Corvallis reading Desert Solitaire. While I liked to read about the outdoors and traveling, I’d never had the good fortune to discover the writings of Ed Abbey. I’m sure this was in no small part thanks to the fact the closest I’d ever come to the “desert” was the area just east of the Columbia River in Washington (mostly the Vantage area).

I hadn’t ever really delved into the ways that being in the desert could complement and enhance the being in the mountains. F left his beat up copy of ol’ Cactus Ed’s book with me when he decamped for Mexico just after meeting me. I devoured it. I loved it. But, as sometimes is the problem when I plow through a book I love, I didn’t savor it.

Last fall, when we were in the early stages of planning our Moab wedding, I promised myself that I would reread it over the winter. Winter pretty much came and went and I didn’t. This spring, however, I decided I’d pay a few dollars to download it on my Kindle and one evening at the cabin, I dipped back into it. I’d read parts aloud to F and really settle in to the landscape that I always itch to go back and visit.

(If you haven’t ever read Abbey, Desert Solitaireis the place to start. After that, you have to give his fiction a try with The Monkey Wrench Gang and its sequel, Hayduke Lives! I recently read Beyond the Wall: Essays from the Outsideand enjoyed it very much. Some people sort of frown on Abbey’s attempts at poetry that are collected and published in Earth Apples but really enjoyed the collection. Confessions of a Barbarianwill also give you some pretty good insight into Abbey’s tongue in cheek way of viewing the world. I’ve also read Brave Cowboy and Fire on the Mountainbut I generally don’t enjoy his fiction as much as the essays.)

One of the things I love so much about good travel literature (like Travels With Charlie, Blue Highways, or the like) is that they can transport you to a place. Before I traveled through the south I was able to absorb William Least Heat Moon’s description of his travels there. The desert, and specifically, the red rock desert of Utah, was a little different. While I loved Desert Solitare on the first read, I wasn’t able to fully process and absorb Abbey’s words. I was completely unequipped to understand and feel for the landscape as he was describing it.

While you’re reading this, I’m down playing in the beautiful red rock canyons of Utah with my soon-to-be-husband. (SATURDAY people…that’s like TOMORROW.) If you’ve been there, you’ll read this and think, “September in Moab? AWESOME.” If you haven’t you might be a little more “Meh.” But in any case, this afternoon, I’m sending some of my favorite Abbey quotes your way…try to feel the desert however you can.

On The Page: Travels With Charlie

Being one for travel books, I recently consumed Travels with Charley in Search of America by John Steinbeck. Published in 1962, the book recounts Steinbeck’s  cross-country journey with his poodle Charlie. While Travels with Charley in Search of America did not supplant Blue Highways as my favorite travel book, I was enamored by some of his thoughts on travel and how it becomes a part of your soul.

The very first paragraph of the book drew me in (and was read aloud to Forrest):

When I was very young and the urge to be someplace else was on me, I was assured by mature people that maturity would cure this itch. When years described me as mature, the remedy prescribed was middle age. In middle age I was assured that greater age would calm my fever and now that I am fifty-eight perhaps senility will do the job. Nothing has worked.

Continue reading “On The Page: Travels With Charlie”

APW Book Club: How To Be A Woman

Caitlin Moran’s How To Be A Woman showed up in my mailbox today after a long trip from England.

So far, I’m really liking it. It’s a mind stretch in places, in the best of ways. I spent the evening on the porch basking in the evening sun with a glass (or two) or wine and making notes in the margin of the book. (I haven’t made notes in the margin of a book since I was at Bates.)

Although Sprocket was good company to discuss feminist ideas:

“Uh, guys? I’m like, totally a feminist. For real. I love you ladies. We can talk about feelings, and stuff, anytime.”

he’s just not much of a match for wonderfully smart women. I’m really looking forward to book club next month. (P.S. Missoula girls! You better be up for something or I’m going to Seattle!)

Now, back to my book.