I have had a chance of late to catch up on the stack of books that have sat forlornly on the shelf waiting to inspire me and entertain me. Here are my thoughts on these books.
Thru hiking will break your heart: Carrot Quinn.
The book is best described as a personal diary of Carrot’s Pacific Crest Trail thru hike in 2013. It is a fascinating and enjoyable read describing the days events, how she gets fitter and faster, her struggles with camping alone, strange sounds in the night, food (too much or too little). The friends she makes along the way, her appreciation of everything about the trail and her preference for sleeping outside not inside a house, motel etc. It is apparent as she continues her journey that this is the life for her and she begins to wonder what will she do when she returns to “civilisation”. A quick look at her blog page will soon indicate that she has continued to complete long distance trails each year. Carrot clearly did her research before commencing the trip and was often commended on her lightweight gear and small pack. Reading the book has me feeling that I am there with her as well it has enthused me to get the pack on and go. I recommend this book to everyone, and to those of you who are hikers you will quickly feel at home as you hike with Carrot along the 2659 miles (4279 kms) of the PCT.
Arctic Dreams: Barry Lopez
I have been reading books by Robert MacFarlane, who has written an introduction for this book. The book is a collection of stories on the authors travels around the Arctic and it provides a comprehensive historical background to the discovery and exploration of the area.
In the prologue Lopez, quickly had me focused when he stated
Difficulty in evaluating, or even discerning , a particular landscape is related to the distance the culture has traveled from its own ancestral landscape
Without much extra thought it is clearly evident to me that I have moved a long way, from where my forebears were living in small country towns now I lived in a big city very much detached from my roots in the outdoors, it made me wonder what that meant for future generations living in big cities never to experience the outdoors in a meaningful way. Perhaps the following quote highlights our disconnection from the fauna and flora.
A fundamental difference between our culture and Eskimo culture, which can be felt even today in certain situations, is that we have irrevocably separated ourselves from the world that animals occupy. We have turned all animals and elements of the natural world into objects. We manipulate them to serve the complicated ends of our destiny.
It struck me as I read this quote that it was also true of the landscape, we turn it into an object that can be manipulated to suit our purposes, and sold physically or as a postcard to the highest bidder. A disturbing thought in my view. As I write this I read of persons placing a baby bison in the car, perhaps typifying the concept of controlling and manipulating for our own rewards.
Which is perhaps summed up by Lopez when he states
One of our long-lived cultural differences with the Eskimos (here you could insert any first peoples) has been over whether to accept the land as it is or to exert the will to change it into something else.
All to often we take the later course.
Lopez’s writing is insightful providing descriptions of his day to day tasks and his travels. Each chapter whilst separate is intertwined with the general theme of the conservation and ecology of the arctic along with the life of the Eskimos and their survival in such a harsh environment. The author also recognises how the original inhabitants experiences and knowledge were considered to be of lesser importance than the “expertise and technology of the europeans”
As I read the book I recognised how little I knew about the exploration of the arctic and the massive loss of life, especially of whale hunters, that took place over a number of years. The discoveries, the sea life and the plant life all dominant this book from start to finish and it is a book that I can recommend for this interested in learning a little more about the arctic.
A landscape Memoir: Tim Winton
Tim Winton is highly regarded Australian author and since being introduced to his books I have read them all. His latest is a story about his growing up in Western Australia and the impact that the landscape had on his development, It only took a few pages for me to recognise how I also had been influenced by the landscapes in which I grew up in Victoria. Winton quickly recognises the benefits of the outdoors whilst travelling in Europe when he writes
For a while I’d assumed our mounting mutual fractiousness was the result of cultural fatigue – the perpetual bafflement at local customs and manners – but the real source was physical confinement and an absence of wildness
Interestingly I have noticed this feeling as well, especially when I moved to Europe, and even now finding wildness is something that I struggle with, but over a period of time I have at least come to terms with it.
Later he states
I grew up on the world’s largest island. … But in an age when culture examines itself primarily through politics and ideology, perhaps forgetting something so basic should come as no surprise. … Our creaturely existence is registered, measured, discussed and represented in increasingly abstract terms.
Aside from being born and raised on an island, I also begun to recognise how the outdoors has shaped me and my cultural artefacts and how often I seek renewal of my culture by visiting the outdoors. Here in Denmark it is the beaches the provide that link whereas in Lapland it is the open spaces that proved the wildness and vast distances replicating my experiences in Australia.
The author eloquently describes the varying landscape, much of which is dry, but also recognises the amazing variation in the vegetation that can be found in these regions. This is certainly a book that all Australians should read as well as anyone who has ever visited, or thought about visiting Australia, as it provides a cultural and natural context upon which to develop some understanding of the country and cultural basis.
Landmarks: Robert MacFarlane
I have read many books of the authors and whilst I admit I find the language a bit heavy at times, I also find his books interesting and informative. Macfarlane has a focus on the outdoors and in this book he describes the number of different words to describe a particular object each are very much connected to the local dialect. It is a fascinating book and quickly had me looking at words and recognising there similarities, with some Danish words whilst also having me wandering how many different words there are for a patch of water in Australia. Could it be a lake, a pond, a billabong, swamp, …
I recommend this book to those of us who are interested in the outdoors and the power and beauty of language to describe it.