Tag: Travel/Adventure

by Hope Jahren 

This was great. It was not what I expected all round- I delighted in reading about experiments on the lives and methods of plants (especially details about tree biology, which read as little independent essays), how Jahren and her fellow scientist Bill came up with their ideas, the meticulous work involved, the scrounging for lab equipment and funding, the long hours and sleepless nights, the road trips and field work . . . What took me by surprise was to find myself also reading about mental illness, the mania and depression of bipolar described very frankly. And to read a birth story when she had her son. It kind of all is one long birth story- the story of how Jahren found her life\’s work in science, and struggled to grow into the best person she knew to be, doing the best science, hoping it would all get seen someday. Some parts are laugh-out-loud funny, some parts are very tense, and some incredibly insightful. Definitely keeping this one to enjoy and learn from again. Wish I could say more about it but not finding a lot of words right now. It is rather significant the things the author did not tell throughout this memoir, but they didn\’t really bother me until I read some other reviews and thought about them more. For example: she tells about a nearly-disastrous, ill-planned road trip to  a conference where she\’s supposed to present a paper, but then there\’s nothing about the conference and only one comment about the presentation itself. Hm. Well, I liked it regardless. Might read it more closely next time. There will be a next time.

Rating: 4/5             290 pages, 2016
More opinions:

From Lost to Found on the Pacific Coast Trail 

by Cheryl Strayed 

Adventuresome memoir by a woman who felt herself at a loss and at odds when her mother died suddenly of cancer. She freely admits that her life was rather a mess- she cheated on her husband and got into drug use, among other things. Then upon seeing a guidebook for the PCT in an outdoor equipment store, she spontaneously decided to hike it. All the way from the Mojave Desert in southern California to the border of Oregon and Washington – eleven hundred miles. I liked how honest the telling was. From the embarrassment and weight of her inexperience, to the tedium of freeze-dried meals, frequent discomfort and injuries, camaraderie with other hikers, spontaneous generosity of people who gave her lifts, meals, showers and sometimes a bed to sleep in, and the wonder of vistas and sights along the way. A lot of it is musing on her past as she walks- her troubled family, issues with her mother, poor choices… I did see the film a while back, so a lot of this was familiar. In particular I had remembered when a man stopped her on the road for an interview because he was writing an articles on hobo and thought she was a hobo- it made me laugh, and of course the scene where she lost a boot. I found two parts rather shocking- no, not all the stuff about men- I knew that about her personality going into this-  one involved a horse that used to belong to her mother, the other what she did with her mother\’s remains after cremation…  My older sister hiked the PCT several years ago, so I also enjoyed comparing what she\’s told me of it, to what I read here. 

Rating: 3/5               315 pages, 2012
More opinions:

by Lucy Irvine 

Fine adventure story, if a bit odd at times. In 1981 this guy who literally wanted to live like Robinson Crusoe, advertised for a woman to accompany him for a year on an uninhabited island. Lucy Irvine answered his query and went with him to Tuin Island, which is near Thursday Island (I\’d heard of that one) which is between Australia and Papua New Guinea. It sounds kind of crazy- they didn\’t know each other, and after a week of being together didn\’t even like each other (and notably had very different reasons for going to the island)- but had to officially get married or the Australian government wouldn\’t let them live on the island. They started out with meager supplies, knowing it was going to run out but planning to subsist on local fruit, coconuts, fish from the sea, and vegetables they would grow. It was far from easy. In fact, a lot of the time it was downright miserable. They soon suffered from heat exhaustion, tropical ulcers and malnutrition. Fresh water in the creek soon ran dangerously low. It\’s doubtful they would have survived the year except some people passing by in a boat spotted them on the beach and offered them some supplies. Not long after they were getting regular visits from Badu Islanders (in the Torres Strait). Eventually they visited Badu Island as Lucy\’s companion became known to the locals for his skill at fixing engines. His work was soon in demand, and they were able to trade the service for rice, flour and other goods- which changed the dynamics of survival mode on the island. It\’s interesting how their relationship also changed once he got treatment for the sores on his legs, recovered his energy (having been laid up much of the first part of the year), and made an occupation for himself repairing things. A lot of the book is Lucy writing vivid descriptions of the island\’s beauty and how deeply it affected her- she loved that island. It\’s also a lot about the friction in their relationship, and of course the survival skills they employed, how they simply adjusted and got used to doing without many things, and acted with ingenuity to overcome other hardships or lack. Pretty interesting the description of the local islander\’s lifestyle and personalities as well, once Lucy deigned to leave the Tuin and visit Badu- she refused for a long time, wanting to stick to her commitment to stay on the island for an entire year. I would really like to read the book her companion wrote about the same venture- The Islander by Gerald Kingsland (the whole time she only refers to him as G). Forewarning: this book has a lot of profanity, and Gerald addresses Lucy with awful words, though apparently meaning nothing ill by it (she took offense plenty of times, though).

Rating: 4/5                    288 pages, 1983

by Ernest Hemingway

I could not like this one. I tried really hard- read a third of it. It\’s about a safari trip Hemingway made to East Africa with his wife (referred to in the book only as P.O.M. – Poor Old Mama- took me a while to figure that out) and a few friends, to hunt big game. Their goal was to get as many large animals as their license permitted during the allotted timeframe- rhino, lions, kudu, giraffe, zebra for their hides, etc. Hemingway was obsessed with getting a larger rhino than his companion, a kudu with bigger horns, etc. He took pride in making a good, clean shot- and while I can admire the skill- I found the attitudes overall very distasteful. Even though he describes in one passage having suffered a terrible war wound in the past, so he knows what it feels like to have been shot- and thus is determined to always make a clean kill so the animals don\’t suffer long. Yet he describes in detail how one of his companions always laughed hilariously at the sudden contortions animals made when hit hard from a far distance- stunned, in shock and agony, flipping head over heels or spinning in circles- I didn\’t find that funny at all. I\’ve read other hunting accounts that were interesting and showed enough respect for the animals, enjoyment of the challenge that I was okay with it. Yes, these were different times and attitudes but still. It was too crass for me. The descriptive writing of the landscape, environment and native peoples did not make up for that. The cursory manner Hemingway used to refer to his companions- barely describing them at all so I rarely knew who was who- and half the time had no idea what their conversations were about- didn\’t redeem it for me either. I did like reading his opinions on other writers- in the evening, after stalking and shooting at animals all day, Hemingway and his companions would sit around the camp getting drunk, reading books and discussing literature. Really full of their own opinions. Some great thoughts in there and pointed observations, but if I wanted to read literary criticism I\’d much rather have a book about just that, without all the amusement on the part of animals dying with their hides blasted open so he and his friends could get all the trophies they\’d paid for. I\’m feeling sore about this, as you can tell. Don\’t care for Hemingway now.

Abandoned                  207 pages, 1935

My Journey from NFL Cheerleader to National Geographic Explorer
by Mireya Mayor

Daughter of Cuban immigrants, Mireya Mayor was raised by three strong women and it\’s really admirable how she lived her own life- outside of all expectations and stereotypes. She professes to being a \”girly girl\” but also had a strong love for wildlife and adventure, even as a child. She was a professional cheerleader (that practice regimen sounds demanding, let me tell you) but then took an anthropology course to fill a credit in college, and realized she really wanted to go to exotic places and study primates. So she did. Without giving up her designer labels or beauty products. She talks about how hard it was to break into the field due to her different background, and \”not looking like a scientist\”, how her feminine products came in handy on exploring treks in unexpected ways, how she worked for her PhD while being a mother. There\’s chapters about many different expeditions- to Madagascar to study lemurs, the Congo in search of gorillas, diving with sharks, hiking through deserts, travelling on food to the very spot where Livingston was once found (and nearly starving en route). Lots about the difficulties and hardships in remote locations, the tedium and logistics nightmares. The writing is light and conversational, a bit short on the kind of details I usually appreciate, but quick to get through and probably appeals to a broader audience, too. I did start to get tired of one final chapter where she went with a small team that was being filmed- a kind of explorer\’s survival reality show- and most of it was about their constant disagreements. I would have liked to know more about the actual research done on the various trips, and more description of the animals encountered. But that\’s just me. This book is a great inspiration for any young woman, to just go for your dreams, no matter how they match up with anyone else\’s ideas.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 3/5                   304 pages, 2011

by Delia and Mark Owens

Many many years ago I read Cry of the Kalahari– the story of this couple\’s studies in an untracked African desert, and I was enthralled with the descriptions of close encounters with wildlife and rough living. Now I finally read their following book, and it was- not the same. Eye of the Elephant isn\’t as much about wildlife behavior as it is about human behavior. Poaching. After having to leave the Kalahari, the Owenses searched for a new wilderness to make their home, hoping to study lions and other animals again. They thought they had found the perfect spot in a remote valley in Zambia. It was rugged, difficult to navigate, sparsely populated, full of lions, rhino, crocs, antelope etc. But they were puzzled at the scarcity of elephants, until they started finding piles of bones. Dismayed and -on Mark\’s part- enraged at seeing the elephants killed in huge numbers, the Owenses took it upon themselves to stop the poaching. They tried to encourage game patrols, to teach local villagers that wildlife was worth more alive than dead (many other animals were killed in addition to elephants- for bush meat), to give the people jobs and support them in creating cottage industries- all to save the wildlife. Really it\’s amazing what they went through, literally bending over backwards to turn things around. Never having time to just sit and watch the animals. Doing things that threatened their own health, driving themselves to exhaustion, many close calls with wild animal encounters and flash floods, not to mention the dangers of facing down heavily armed poachers keen on protecting their habitual livelihood. There was a lot of corruption, they faced death threats, and several times were nearly trampled by buffalo. Some of Mark\’s tactics against the poachers surprised me, and his flying at night sounded hair-raising. At one point Delia couldn\’t condone the direct approach Mark was taking and set up her own separate camp. Not surprisingly, their relationship suffered somewhat. In the end they finally accomplished a sort of peace after a lot of difficulty, hardship and frustration. What descriptions of animals there are, I found intriguing, but because of all the focus on their efforts against poaching, this book reminded me far more of The White Bushman than of anything by the Adamsons. The parts Mark wrote about flying his plane made me recall Beryl Markham.

Rating: 3/5              306 pages, 1992

a Journey to the Flora and Fauna of a Unique Island
by Gerald Durrell

This book predates the one I just read- it\’s about a collection trip Durrell took to Mauritius (near Madagascar in the Indian Ocean), in particular visiting several tiny islands- Round Island gets a lot of mention- where species of snakes, birds and lizards live that exist nowhere else in the world. These species were nearly extinct due to introduced rabbits, goats and monkeys which either denuded the vegetation or destroyed the native animals\’ young. When Durrell visited the island, less than forty pink pigeons remained, there were only eight Mauritian kestrels known to exist, and the Round Island boa numbered seventy-five. Their purpose was to get an estimated count of the various endangered species, capture just enough individuals to set up a captive breeding program, and ascertain what could be done about the invasive animal problem. A lot of it of course, is about the mishaps and struggles working in remote, foreign conditions- in this case under constant blistering heat with little shade. Giant land snails invaded their tent and ate their sandwiches, shearwater chicks kept them awake at night screaming and trampling on everything, and mosquitoes swarmed in hordes. While the focus of the trip was the golden bat, pink pigeon and Mauritian kestrel, a lot of the text describes the numerous and beautiful lizards- there being plenty of those to observe. The phelsuma day gecko in particular has gorgeous colors (look it up!). Apart from the collecting efforts, Durrell also describes the beauties of the reef, as they spent several mornings snorkeling. The descriptions of the dazzling variety of fishes, corals, invertebrates and more is just wonderful. Unlike most Durrell books I\’ve read, this one is illustrated with photographs (as well as some nice pen-and-ink drawings).

Happily, a bit of online search reveals that Durrell\’s efforts were the first of many (the Mauritian government, various other conservation groups and zoos became heavily involved), and they have paid off to save the species in Mauritius. While still vulnerable, the pink pigeon population now has over 400 birds, the Mauritius kestrel numbers about 200, the golden bat more than 20,000, the Round Island boa around 1,800 but the burrowing boa Durrell described is now considered extinct.

Rating: 3/5                       190 pages, 1977

by Gerald Durrell

Charming little book about the last collecting trip Durrell made to bring rare, endangered animals back to his European zoo for a breeding program. His main purpose in visiting Madagascar was to find the aye-aye, a strange nocturnal lemur at risk of going extinct. They also searched for and collected snakes, endemic tortoises, gentle lemurs, a jumping rat and spiny-tailed iguanas. As always, Durrell\’s writing is interesting and humorous. He describes the difficulties they had navigating bad roads, finding accurate sources of information, getting local men in power to allow them access, dealing with breakdowns and scant supplies, etc. All the logistics involved in finding, feeding, and safely transporting the animals home. Coaxing newly-caught, frightened lemurs to eat. Scrambling to find medical care when one of the team members became ill. The descriptions of the red, pothole-strewn roads, the upright brick houses and the gentle native people are vivid. He also describes beginning attempts at conservation, the plans they made with local government to set aside wildlife refuges, do something about severe deforestation and protect the wildlife- many animals were illegally caught to be eaten or sold as pets, with no law enforcement in place. Aye-ayes were often killed outright by local people, who had strong superstitious fear of the animal. They did a lot of work to educate the people on the true nature of the wildlife, and to teach the local children about animals they had heard many fables of, but never actually seen. I think my favorite passage of the book was Durrell\’s description of a fossa- he was sitting quietly by himself one day while the team went ahead, when the animal walked into the road, treating him to a personal, rare encounter.

The end of the book has a sudden switch to the island of Mauritius, where Durrell and part of his team stopped on their way home from Madagascar, to check on a program they had put in place there years earlier to save some rare animals, especially the pink pigeon. I haven\’t read the book about the Mauritius trip yet, although it\’s on my shelf. Finally, Durrell sees the newly acquired animals safe home from their trip, settled into quarantine quarters at the zoo. There is an afterward by a Mammal Keeper from the zoo, who gives more details on how the animals fared after the expedition, and more information on the conservation and breeding programs set in place by Durrell.

Rating: 3/5                184 pages, 1992

more opinions:
Read Warbler

Stories from the Roof of the World
edited by Don Hunter

Collection of firsthand accounts about tracking and studying snow leopards in the highest regions of the world. Also a few pieces by locals who lived there-  men protecting their livestock, stories of a snow leopard encounter told through generations. This book really gives a well-rounded look at what\’s involved in field work- the efforts of scientists and conservationists to find the animals and learn more about them, and the struggles of people who live near them in harsh conditions, to make a living. There\’s even a story of a misunderstanding with a poacher, who just wanted to earn money for his family, and another of how an organization set up an incentive program- locals were paid for making crafts to sell, on condition they never kill a snow leopard (sounds like it was very effective so far). The voices are very different- some describe the grueling marches and chilling cold, only to find tracks, never see the animal itself. Others describe the beauty of the landscape, the spiritual connection they feel to the secretive cat, or some personal incident in their lives that made them want to travel to remote regions in hopes of seeing one. George Schaller, Peter Matthiessen, Tom McCarthy (and his son), Rodney Jackson and many more writers are included. It was interesting to hear from two sides of some accounts- the scientist and the assistant each writing a piece. Very striking in my mind was an account of some scientists trailing a snow leopard across a glacier. Every place where the leopard (as noted by its pugmarks) had paused and leaped across an area, they took measurements and found a crevasse was hidden beneath the snow. I really enjoyed another by a photographer who observed a snow leopard on a kill interacting with other animals (magpies, fox) that came hoping to scavenge.  Oh, and I love the cover image, by one of my favorite wildlife artists, Robert Bateman.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 3/5               188 pages, 2012

A Naturalist\’s Journeys on the Roof of the World
by George B. Schaller

I thought- mostly due to the cover image- that this book was about the field study of a Tibetan antelope called chiru. That\’s only a few chapters. It covers many different trips and field studies the author conducted or participated in, travelling through remote regions of the Tibetan Plateau- encompassing areas of China, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan and Mongolia. His studies were all about wildlife conservation- but there is (disappointingly for me) not a lot of description of actual animal encounters or behavior. What little is described of the wildlife, is brief. Mostly it is a report on how many animals they find in the various regions, how they tallied death numbers (from poaching, trophy hunters or natural causes and predation), and their survey of the areas- in particular noting the attitude of local people to the animals, what they knew of them, how they interacted with them, what local laws were in place and how well enforced, etc. A lot of it is just plain facts, and rather dry reading. I did find it interesting enough to complete- but I think (similar to Joy Adamson\’s Queen of Shaba) this is a case where the author is relating crucial info and not really giving vivid storytelling, as I have encountered more in his works (the few I\’ve read so far).

The book describes in passing the yak, kiang (or wild ass), Tibetan gazelle, golden eagle, Tibetan brown bear, Tibetan fox and a number of other animals. More attention is given to the chriu- mostly in head counts- and an entire chapter is about how the desire of the wealthy to own shawls woven from the fine wool of chiru caused the animals to be killed in great numbers until protection was put in place. There\’s a chapter about pika- small rodents- all about how they fit into the ecosystem, but unfortunately local inhabitants blamed pikas for degraded pastures, and poisoned them in great numbers (on the contrary, Schaller explains that pika are important for a healthy land). Another chapter describes efforts to locate, track and study snow leopards, and a final one the Tibetan bear- but in both cases they barely get a glimpse of the animals, relying mostly on camera traps and information gleaned from the few individuals they are able to radio-collar in order to track movements. More about politics and legal tangles involved in protecting Tibetan wild sheep- the argali- and the Marco Polo sheep. A lot of it is just we-went-here, we-did-this, or in many cases, how they failed to. If you want to read about the difficulties and drudgery of field work, or an overview on how lifestyles have changed in that region of the world over the past decades – Scahller went there many times with repeated visits, so he was able to give a bit of perspective on that- by all means this is a valuable account.

It\’s just not terribly intriguing to the casual reader like myself. Personally, I would really like to read the book of pika fables he wrote, in order to teach local Tibetans why the small animal was valuable. Being written later in his career, Schaller also includes some introspective musings in this book, looking at what his life\’s accomplishments had been so far-

I have not lived up to my potential. I am neither leader nor follower, and instead inadvertently subscribe to the dictum of Ralph Waldo Emerson: \”Do not go where the path may lead; go where there is no path and leave a trail.\” It affords me great pleasure to observe the rich and complex life of another species and write its biography. . . I have published interesting and useful scientific information. But all scientific work, unless there is the grand, everlasting insight of a Darwin, Einstein, or Newton, is soon supersceded, forgotten or rated at most a historical reference as others build upon your research. That is how science must proceed.

This makes me think of a comment on Wild HeritageBut I wholly recognize that Schaller\’s work in surveying and reporting on wildlife in various parts of the world has contributed greatly to conservation efforts, even if his books aren\’t wildly popular or always make fun reading (I however, plan to read all I can get my hands on, even though my library only has a few. I\’ve been collecting the others- have one on gorillas and another on pandas on my shelf. Really want to get the one about his first study, on lions in the Serengeti).

I borrowed this book from the public library.

Rating: 3/5              372 pages, 2012

DISCLAIMER:

All books reviewed on this site are owned by me, or borrowed from the public library. Exceptions are a very occasional review copy sent to me by a publisher or author, as noted. Receiving a book does not influence my opinion or evaluation of it

VIEW MY PERSONAL COLLECTION:

TRADE BOOKS WITH ME ON:

ARCHIVES: 

2021
January 2021 (14)February 2021 (13)March 2021 (14)April 2021 (7)May 2021 (10)June 2021 (4)
2020
January 2020 (14)February 2020 (6)March 2020 (10)April 2020 (1)May 2020 (10)June 2020 (15)July 2020 (13)August 2020 (26)September 2020 (10)October 2020 (9)November 2020 (16)December 2020 (22)
2019
January 2019 (12)February 2019 (9)March 2019 (5)April 2019 (10)May 2019 (9)June 2019 (6)July 2019 (18)August 2019 (13)September 2019 (13)October 2019 (7)November 2019 (5)December 2019 (18)
2018
January 2018 (17)February 2018 (18)March 2018 (9)April 2018 (9)May 2018 (6)June 2018 (21)July 2018 (12)August 2018 (7)September 2018 (13)October 2018 (15)November 2018 (10)December 2018 (13)
2017
January 2017 (19)February 2017 (12)March 2017 (7)April 2017 (4)May 2017 (5)June 2017 (8)July 2017 (13)August 2017 (17)September 2017 (12)October 2017 (15)November 2017 (14)December 2017 (11)
2016
January 2016 (5)February 2016 (14)March 2016 (5)April 2016 (6)May 2016 (14)June 2016 (12)July 2016 (11)August 2016 (11)September 2016 (11)October 2016 (9)November 2016 (1)December 2016 (3)
2015
January 2015 (9)February 2015 (9)March 2015 (11)April 2015 (10)May 2015 (10)June 2015 (2)July 2015 (12)August 2015 (13)September 2015 (16)October 2015 (13)November 2015 (10)December 2015 (14)
2014
January 2014 (14)February 2014 (11)March 2014 (5)April 2014 (15)May 2014 (12)June 2014 (17)July 2014 (22)August 2014 (19)September 2014 (10)October 2014 (19)November 2014 (14)December 2014 (14)
2013
January 2013 (25)February 2013 (28)March 2013 (18)April 2013 (21)May 2013 (12)June 2013 (7)July 2013 (13)August 2013 (25)September 2013 (24)October 2013 (17)November 2013 (18)December 2013 (20)
2012
January 2012 (21)February 2012 (19)March 2012 (9)April 2012 (23)May 2012 (31)June 2012 (21)July 2012 (19)August 2012 (16)September 2012 (4)October 2012 (2)November 2012 (7)December 2012 (19)
2011
January 2011 (26)February 2011 (22)March 2011 (18)April 2011 (11)May 2011 (6)June 2011 (7)July 2011 (10)August 2011 (9)September 2011 (14)October 2011 (13)November 2011 (15)December 2011 (22)
2010
January 2010 (27)February 2010 (19)March 2010 (20)April 2010 (24)May 2010 (22)June 2010 (24)July 2010 (31)August 2010 (17)September 2010 (18)October 2010 (11)November 2010 (13)December 2010 (19)
2009
January 2009 (23)February 2009 (26)March 2009 (32)April 2009 (22)May 2009 (18)June 2009 (26)July 2009 (34)August 2009 (31)September 2009 (30)October 2009 (23)November 2009 (26)December 2009 (18)
2008
January 2008 (35)February 2008 (26)March 2008 (33)April 2008 (15)May 2008 (29)June 2008 (29)July 2008 (29)August 2008 (34)September 2008 (29)October 2008 (27)November 2008 (27)December 2008 (24)
2007
August 2007 (12)September 2007 (28)October 2007 (27)November 2007 (28)December 2007 (14)
2006
2005
2004
2003
2002
2001
2000
1999
1998
1997
1996
1995
1994
1993
1992
1991
1990
1989
1988
1987
1986
1985
1984
1983
1982
1981
1980
1979
1978
1977
1976
1975
1974
1973
1972
1971
1970
1969
1968
1967
1966
1965
1964
1963
1962
1961
1960
1959
1958
1957
1956
1955
1954
1953
1952
1951
1950