Love and climbing

From the Amazon reviews of Forget Me Not: A Memoir by Jennifer Lowe-Anker — and even, if taken out of context, a sentence or two in Krakauer’s forward — I had to assume this was some sort of angry or at least pitiable self portrait of a woman abandoned in life and death by her selfish climber husband. Or, perhaps, it would be a regrettable story of an obsessed, stupid, unloving climber who finally got out of the way of his family’s happiness.

It is neither, to my eyes. This book is a beautiful but realistic love story. Lowe-Anker’s writing about her late husband is the portrait of an intensely focused person who struggled but mostly found a way to live and love outside of the mountains that kept him sane. And it is the story of a couple that each found commercial and personal success in their respective obsessions, following years of struggling as a young couple of unconventional career aspirations on both sides. When commercial success came to the climber, it obligated him to commercial trips, first guiding and then sponsored trips. At the time of his unfortunate end, the story is that of this couple struggling to reconcile their respective needs for fulfillment and employment with Lowe’s frequent absences. For a couple with that big issue to overcome, though, they seem by Lowe-Anker’s recounting to have had a deeper and more passionate relationship than a good number of couples whose relative lack of passion for life gives them more time together.

Lowe-Anker writes wonderfully, and she includes here a good deal of the writing of the late Lowe, enough to see he had a deep appreciation for life, for her and for their children, not just for climbing (he also had a great gift for writing expressively and intelligently). She is a serious climber herself (or was; as she states, parenthood increased her drive for self preservation), and she conveys clearly the concepts necessary to understand the climbing stories she relays. I read this as a frequent reader of climbing literature, but one could read it just as easily without that background.

This book is well worth the read for any number of reasons: if you climb, if you know someone who climbs, if you know and can’t understand someone who is the 12-cups-of-coffee-per-day-can’t-sit-still-must-achieve-something type, if you love Bozeman, if you read any and all climbing books, or if you want to read a touching story of two strong people making their way through the world together.

No time to stop and think

Flying Close to the Sun: My Life and Times as a Weatherman, Cathy Wilkerson, is a recounting of the author’s experiences in various movement groups, mostly SDS and Weatherman. Along the way of fighting against the war and the military industrial complex, she struggles with inter-movement issues of gender equality, the relations between white and black movement groups and a perpetual lack of an end-game plan for change by the various organizations.

It is most of the way through the book when we get to the beginnings of Weatherman, the townhouse explosion and the Weather Underground. Along the way, Wilkerson describes successfully working for a congressman, organizing students in D.C. and elsewhere, publishing the SDS paper and meeting Vietnamese officials on a trip that supposed to end in Hanoi but couldn’t due to increased U.S. bombing. Throughout the book, it is clear that Wilkerson, at least as she looks back now, is frustrated by the lack of a plan. After rushing the steps of the Pentagon, she asks, “What good were we doing sitting out here, chanting against those impenetrable stone walls? We were hippies, students, and angry young people without a strategy.” Later, as Weatherman leadership restricts information and membership in the newly organized, cultish collectives, Wilkerson is frustrated by the fact that “…Weatherman, for all its eloquent economic and political analysis, didn’t have much of a strategy for moving beyond the immediate actions.” However, unlike some others who were involved with SDS leadership and now bitterly claim that Weatherman ruined their dreams of accomplishing change, Wilkerson is emphatic in stating that SDS had a similar lack of end-game planning and refused to take the time to discuss such basic things, preferring instead to discuss actions and short-term strategies.

Things come to a head early in the Weatherman saga for Wilkerson, who is among the first to go underground as she and the other survivor climb out of the burning rubble of her father’s townhouse after the explosion. Unable to go out into the public for security reasons and depressed over the loss of her comrades and her lover, she spends more than a few years in relative isolation, close enough to the leadership of the Weather Underground to occasionally assist and to be protected but outside the top circle and left out of the loop. After a few years (seems to be around 6), Wilkerson starts to step out, taking jobs on the outside, having a child and having a life of her own, albeit under a variety of assumed identities. Ten years after going underground, Wilkerson turns herself in, is convicted on explosives charges and serves her time in prison.
In case it is not clear from the above summary, this recounting almost totally lacks the intrigue and voyeurism of other accounts written by the leaders of the Weather Underground. Wilkerson wants to talk about the decisions that were made, the struggles that she and others faced, and the war and other events of the day that led them to take the steps they took. There is no bravado, no delight at avoiding the FBI for so long, no secret meeting on a street corner to accomplish a bombing or to reconnect with family. Wilkerson seems never to be comfortable with the cult-like, controlled atmosphere of the collectives, neither early when she was in an anonymous group in Chicago nor later when she was close to the leadership in the townhouse. This telling of the Weather Underground story from the perspective of a member who was there for everything, for longer than most of the eventual leaders, but remained outside the inner circle, takes all of the romance out of the story. To me, this provides a good counterpoint to the video documentaries and other published books.

That is not to say that Wilkerson regrets being there and doing what they did. She remains proud of doing the best that she could find to do based on what she believed about the ongoing injustices. Even the townhouse explosion, she says, finally allowed “the intensity of [their] anger” to be “heard throughout the country” (it also provided focus for the organization and drastically improved their strategy in the future). In the end, she wouldn’t have stood idly by, stating that while she did not, in the book, shy “away from exploring the weaknesses of SDS and the Weather Underground, then, like now, the gravest mistake is inaction.”

As for the methods used and the growing lack of faith in democratic change, Wilkerson astutely notes that “Many of those ideas, like Leninism, arise again and again because democratically led radical change is exceedingly difficult and slow moving.” Revolution will remain an attractive option for young radicals, especially given the example in smaller countries where small groups were able to oust rulers backed by foreign powers. Yet, she has a healthy appreciation of what the U.S. possesses in its democracy, even while she learns its less than admirable interventions around the world. Early in her journey, she states: “I had been fascinated with the origins of our secular, constitutional democracy in college, but the more I learned about the damage we had done, the easier it was to forget what an accomplishment it had been. The US system had cobbled together many of the most progressive ideas of the times in a powerful combination, ideas from Native American federalist government, from utopians, from the philosophers of emergent capitalism, and from advocates of religious tolerance.” She returns there at the end of the book, noting appreciatively that thousands of ’60s radicals took to their neighborhoods, workplaces, schools, churches, etc., in the following decades to make real in little, progressive, individual ways the change they had all sought with marches and violence in those movement years.

Kindle and first books for it

I got a Kindle for Christmas from Emily! Other than out-of-print and hard-to-find books best picked up randomly at a used bookstore, I am moving away from printed book purchases. This certainly will hold true for newly published books — fiction, non-fiction, just about everything except where the book is heavy with color or large pictures.

So far, I do not have a lot of complaints about it. Pagination went crazy on me one time, with lines getting cut off at the bottom of each page, but power cycling fixed that. There are some features I would like to see added: book lending; Twitter updates for reading or completing a book (currently the only Tweets allowed are quotes from what you are reading); fully customizable fonts; a clock display (the shortcut key from the 1st Gen. Kindle seems to be gone); and configurable, automated filing of reading into Kindle’s Collections (sending new books to one collection, completed books to another, etc., without having to move things manually).

Overall, though, I love this thing. On this weekend’s Amtrak round-trip and family holiday out of town, I needed only to bring the Kindle. There was no deciding ahead of time which book I would want to read when I finished the current one. There was no need to choose between bringing a half-finished book and spares and starting a new one to cut down on the number of books I’d have to haul. And, as much as my schedule allowed, there was not loss of connection to the day’s news, since the few newspapers I am trying out were downloaded to the Kindle each morning.

On that note, the expiration of my Kindle trial of the New York Times subscription will mark the first time in a decade when I will not get a daily subscription to the Times. I started off with a home-delivery subscription, but a couple of years ago I switched to electronic delivery: first what is now called the Replica Edition, then to the Adobe Air-powered Times Reader, and now to the Kindle Edition. (Why NYTimes has so many electronic editions, plus their website, with completely separate subscriptions is beyond me.) The Times for Kindle is the same price as the Times Reader, $19.99 per month, but with no access to the subscription parts of the website (as far as I can tell).

Instead, I have been trying out the Washington Post, and I think I am going to stick with it. The Kindle price is $11.99 per month, and the reporting is just as good in my eyes. It is a little weird getting used to a new style guide, most immediately their use of “Burma,” but that will pass shortly. I like the Times, I will miss the Times, and I feel like I am losing some continuity here, but I cannot justify hanging on to it when the Times digital-publishing decisions are obviously off-base on pricing, cross-platform availability, etc. So, the Post it is.

Other than the daily paper, the first thing I read on the Kindle was Dark Summit: The True Story of Everest’s Most Controversial Season, Nick Heil. This is a seemingly fair and thorough accounting of the more commercial and controversial events of the 2006 climbing season on the Tibet side of Everest. After watching the Discovery Channel program that year and reading some of the follow-up discussion, angry,  blame-filled and irrational, reading this book added a bit of clarity and balance to the story. It’s not that Russell Brice is the bad guy or the hero, but there are certain things wrong with the commercial Everest experience that lead to these kinds of tragedies. First, when commercial clients and even non-guided climbers are led to believe they can always be short-roped down the mountain by Sherpas, they will not appreciate the risks and plan for them, and they will cry foul when someone dies. Second, as long as Everest is an open playground for anyone with enough money to afford the trip, the unqualified commercial clients will flock there and outnumber the seriously qualified few who should perhaps be there.

Family Secrets: The Case That Crippled the Chicago Mob, Jeff Coen. This story is incredibly interesting and enlightening, and the book is very well researched and well written. I can’t believe I missed this whole story when the trial was going on for over two months — I was living in the city by then, but all I remember is the search for one fugitive in the west suburbs. The look inside decades of Chicago Outfit operations and murders provided by the government’s star witness is amazing and apparently unheard of. While this book and its stories stand alone and need no introduction, the background provided by Gus Russo’s The Outfit, which I mentioned here last year, was helpful. Amazing stuff and well worth a read if you live here or are interested in the somewhat recent activities of organized crime.

A few books

High: Stories of Survival from Everest and K2, edited by Clint Willis. To be honest, I didn’t quite finish this book yet. I left it back home for my brother to read after Thanksgiving, and there was not quite enough reading time on that trip to get through the last couple of selections. What I read, though, is great. The book is a series of selections from longer, published accounts of climbing expeditions on Everest and K2. The chapters are short and leave the reader hanging on what happened during the rest of the expedition. However, Willis’ focus here is to compile the experiences of death and near death during these climbs. There are some that end with a struggle back to high camp, barely alive. And there are others that end with the surviving climbers slowly giving up hope, realizing their teammates are not coming back.

A little more context for some of the stories would have been nice, but one could seek out the source material and read the entire story. Overall, this is a good introduction to a variety of expeditions, including some of the most significant ones in the history of these two peaks.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Stieg Larsson, translated by Reg Keeland. Yes, I read this. And, yeah, it’s not bad. The story gets very engrossing after about 250 pages, and it is an exciting story. However, the translation could have been done better, especially since this is such a hit. Even the UK generally uses jail instead of gaol, for instance, but gaol is used here. To me a good translation explains a bit about the original language, leaving key words and phrases untranslated with footnotes or parentheses explaining the nearest English translation. There have to be nuances of Swedish that are completely lost in English, and there was no effort here to try to explain Swedish language or culture to the English-speaking reader. I think that is unfortunate and a missed opportunity.

The Girl Who Played with Fire, Stieg Larsson, translated by Reg Keeland. This book and translation are similar to the first book in the series, but here the engrossing action starts at the beginning of the book and runs all the way through it. I’m baffled by the need to start with a prevented murder halfway across the world, since that event had nothing to do with the rest of the book, but it wasn’t bad. I am starting on the third and final book now.

A freeramblin’ read

A Freewheelin’ Time, Suze Rotolo. In some ways, this book is great — far better than it could have been given the author’s involvement with Bob Dylan during his critical first years in New York City. Of course Rotolo writes about Dylan and takes the book’s title and cover photo from the Dylan album cover on which she was pictured with him. There are some nuggets of information about Bob and his writing, leaving me with some fresh thoughts about the thinking behind Dylan’s early songs, his attitude toward his career in those early years, the real struggles he and Rotolo and other friends had dealing with his skyrocketing fame, and just how damn young they all were throughout these years.

But the book is much more than a recounting of Rotolo’s memories of Dylan. I would guess most of the audience for this book are Dylan fans, and none of them would read it if it were not for Rotolo being his girlfriend at the start of his career, but there is more to the author and more to this book than Dylan. This is her life, her story, and Bob is simply intertwined in a lot of it. Rotolo had plenty of amazing experiences of her own during the years described here, including publicly testing a newly enacted Cuba travel ban. Her struggle with life in a male-dominated world, no doubt made worse because of her relationship with a budding male rock star, is a recurring theme. Her recounting of life in Greenwich Village during the ’60s is worth a read on its own merits.

However, the book suffers from a severe lack of focus. Time jumps around enough that I found it impossible to keep track of what happened when. Rotolo leads into the book stating it is more a recollection than a statement of known facts, but that does not excuse this huge problem with the book. Stories begin, are cut off, and then are picked up again and told in full. Wider topics come up several times throughout the book, little new being added each time. I want to imagine this is the result of an editor taking the manuscript, knowing it will sell to Dylan fans in any condition, running spell check and sending it to press. Rotolo’s recollections deserve more attention and better presentation.


Fraud, David Rakoff. I try to read slowly. I occasionally remind myself to slow down, to appreciate the inflection, the word choice, something beyond the basic tenor of the story that I normally grasp as I tear through a book, reading interrupted regularly by people, television, the phone or sleep. But especially with this book — thoughtful essays, written by someone to whose voice on CD I delightedly listened a few years ago as he read aloud a follow-up, Don’t Get Too Comfortable — I know the meter, the tone, the voice I should hear in my head as I read along.

But I can’t do it, and writing like this is wasted on me for that reason. There are some delights among this collection of essays, and I recommend reading it. But for a real treat, check out any book-on-tape version you can find of Rakoff reading his own work.

The ongoing fascination with Chomolungma

I am home from work again today, slightly feverish with a cold, so I hesitate to try to write anything, having my doubts as to whether or not it will be at all comprehensible or grammatically correct. However, I cannot sleep any longer, so I shall continue the backlog of completed reads.
Lost of Everest: The Search for Mallory and Irvine, Peter Firstbrook, is the first book upon which I stumbled on the topic of the 1999 climbing expedition to the north side of Mount Everest in a successful bid to locate the body of George Mallory. Mallory, of course, is the English climber who disappeared while leading the less experienced Andrew Irvine in a 1924 attempt on Everest’s summit. No one knows if they made it or not, because they did not return. Regardless, Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay were the first to make it to the top and survive.

Firstbrook was the producer of the BBC documentary of the same name, which should set the tone for this read. He does a good job giving an overview of Mallory’s climbing history as well as his obsession with reaching the summit of Everest. He recounts the 1921, 1922 and 1924 British expeditions and, to a lesser extent, the 1999 recovery expedition. Too little time is spent on the found evidence and various theories. And is a climb on Everest now so commonplace that the details of the trying, oxygen-starved efforts to get there are something to be passed over in favor of cutting the book short?

Lost on Everest is a good introduction to the topic, but it ends poorly, disintegrating into a confusing jumble of statements of fact about the various unknowns of the last days of Mallory and Irvine. Irritating comments such as the one Firstbrook repeats early and often about the climbers definitely being on their descent when they perished may play well in a succinct documentary, but they do not in black and white to a reader looking for proof.

I will watch the related documentary, but for a book on the topic I am now looking for The Lost Explorer: Finding Mallory on Mount Everest, by Conrad Anker and David Roberts. Anker is the one whose off-track searching found Mallory’s body and whose free climb of the Second Step solved one big question. Roberts is a well established outdoors writer: True Summit: What Really Happened on the Legendary Ascent of Annapurna is among other books to his name. This is an amazing story, and I’m sure it can be told better than it is in Lost on Everest.

Coal and anthropology

Reckoning at Eagle Creek, Jeff Biggers, is the third of the books I have read over the past five years about the coal industry’s less than positive contribution to our lives. I have yet to see a pro-coal book interesting enough to pick up, but what is there to learn? Coal is cheap and plentiful to one degree or another, and most of us do enjoy our electrically powered computers, appliances, climate control, etc.

This book is different from Big Coal and Lost Mountain because Biggers has a personal, ancestral connection to the area around Eagle Creek that has now been strip mined for coal. This book is as much a recounting of his search for the past as it is a treatise on the problems of coal mining and burning. Yet, it is not without its insights: notably, Biggers exposes the links between coal and legal or tolerated slavery in Illinois long after the state was declared “free,” and he discusses with disdain the history of this idea of “clean coal” (FutureGen is not the first technology described as such).

Personally, I do not believe I will ever buy into the idea of clean coal. My love of mountains and the coal industry’s love of removing mountaintops to get to the coal underneath in the least expensive way possible do not seem compatible, nor am I impressed when hiking around a strip mine “reclaimed” into a half-assed state park. Illinois coal is supposed to be pretty uncontroversial other than its high sulfur content (which FutureGen will supposedly solve), but Eagle Creek shows that coal mining does not need to involve mountaintop removal or carbon dioxide emissions to be disturbing and harmful.

Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality, Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethá. Where do I start? Read this book. Read this book, read this book, read this book.

Something is wrong with human romantic relationships as generally defined in the western world. We say one thing, but we do anything but that. Starting with the pair-bond myth, we justify the preeminence of institutionalized marriage, yet most marriages fail. That same myth leads some to say homosexual relationships cannot be natural. The idea that the pair bond is the earliest and therefore the truly internalized form of human sexual relationship is wrong.
Ryan and Jethá offer another explanation, one based on observations of earlier societies and closely related primates that have, in their opinion, been conveniently overlooked in favor of the standard myth. Though a good number of their references to anthropological research are ones I recall from early anthropology classes, the authors put their combined talents (Ryan a psychologist and Jethá a psychiatrist) to good use, compiling this body of sources into a flowing, readable progression to the inevitable conclusion: humans developed in groups, lived in groups, shared sexual partners within and among these groups, and raised the resultant children in groups. Anything else, including the pair bond, is a much more recent regression in response to the start of agriculture, the inevitable shortage of land and the new structures that developed in human society to support agricultural (and later industrial and post-industrial) life.

As I was reading, I had picked out a few parts of the book to quote here, but looking back I do not believe I can provide adequate context for any of them. The authors say something similar in the intro to Part III of the book. About to delve more deeply into anthropology and away from what may be more interesting to the casual reader, they state: “We hope readers primarily interested in sex will bear with us because what might at first seem a detour is in fact a shortcut to a clearer vision of the day-to-day lives of our ancestors, a vision that will help you make better sense of the material that follows, as well as of your own world.” That sums up why, if you pick up this book on Dan Savage’s recommendation and get bored halfway through, you should read the whole thing: you will better understand yourself and the world around you.

Sex at Dawn puts together a convincing picture, but what about it? If you subscribe to the book’s very compelling conclusions, you learn that the myth inherent in society, government and religious norms and precepts regarding sexual relationships does not reflect the truth about the roots of human behavior as you were led to believe. But, living in a highly structured society — with land ownership, accumulation of wealth and the practical importance of conclusive paternity — what can or should be done about it?

My personal feeling: Not much can or should be done about it until more people know something other than the pair-bond myth. So, again, please read this book. It is completely fascinating.

Lust in Translation: The Rules of Infidelity from Tokyo to Tennessee, Pamela Druckerman. This book has been on my shelf for the past couple of years, and I picked it up right after I finished Sex at Dawn. If that book describes in detail the roots of human behavior in this area, Lust in Translation describes the ways people express those behaviors in several societies. The books are on different planes and for different audiences, but I read them together.

This is an entertaining read, and there are some surprises here: the first is that Americans do not generally have fewer affairs than the French or Europe in general. One would assume so from our relatively Victorian reaction to an affair being made public, but the numbers do not lie. In that vein lies probably the most potentially instructive portion of Druckerman’s writing: the two choices in response to an affair in America are a permanent severing of the relationship or a lifetime of distrust, therapy and support groups. This is fairly unique, and it sounds pretty ridiculous when contrasted with the reactions of cuckolded partners in other societies.

This is worth a read, and it has some insight to contribute to learning more about the world around us. However, if you are going to read one of these books, make it Sex at Dawn.

Not what I was expecting, this book

Miracle in the Andes: 72 Days on the Mountain and My Long Trek Home, Nando Parrado with Vince Rause. I picked this, somewhat randomly, off the book shelf at REI on Saturday. I bought a pair of sunglasses off REI Outlet and had them shipped to the relatively new local store for pickup, so I took the opportunity to wander the aisles of the first floor — so many fun things. Among all of the books — the practical ones about hiking, climbing and backpacking and the stories about mountaineering — this one stuck out a little, being the story of the survivors of a late-winter airline crash high in the mountains. It’s also a departure from my recent “adventure” reading, since it is much more about surviving a disaster than about exploration.

Perhaps because of that, I started reading it wanting the facts of what happened, how they survived, how they got out and what the climbing and hiking were like on the various efforts to get out. This book does not try to offer all of that. In fact, it’s in ghostwriter Rause’s acknowledgments that we read that the intent from the beginning for this book, written 34 years after the events described, was to complement, rather than to duplicate, the more fact-laden Alive: The Story of the Andes Survivors, written 32 years prior.

That is not at all to imply that the authors got their facts wrong in this book. On the contrary, the facts seem well established, but the authors’ focus here was elsewhere. In the ensuing three decades, Parrado had learned to speak to groups about the horrible experience, and this book captures his well developed personal narrative. It is the dashed hopes, lessening sanity, troubled faith and growing desperation of the group, and Parrado himself primarily, that are described most here. Knowing this, I can hear almost hear his voice describing the horrors then, humbly, their eventual, hard fought triumph and resultant reunions. It is clear that to hear him speak in person would not be easily forgotten.

Had I known this deliberate choice of perspective, I would have read Alive first, then this. However, for someone like myself that knew nothing of this story and had not seen the associated movie or documentary, reading the well regarded third-party book based on early interviews of the survivors would have been a better first step and left me a little more patient to appreciate Parrado’s introspection. He deserves nothing less, and I would suggest you follow the course of reading the other book prior to this one.

Because this was written three decades later, the reader also gets the benefit of hearing how Parrado’s life has shaped up (quite well, considering the thread by which it hung). The entire book is intensely personal storytelling, and I couldn’t help but compare my life to that of Parrado — not his struggle in the Andes but the stages of his life before and after the crash and escape. I can see why he can inspire an audience to reach for better than they have, stretch to be better than they are. I do not buy books looking for such reactions in myself but stumbled on a good one here.

The grizzly bear, my mostly imagined nemesis

Bear Attacks: Their Causes and Avoidance, Stephen Herrero. For a book that seems to be the most well regarded, practical, 250-page look at bear-human interactions for the person that is living in or visiting bear territory, this book is readable and, I hesitate to say, entertaining. Herrero’s writing is matter-of-fact, including his recounting of dozens of black-, brown- and grizzly-bear attacks, but the subject requires no added drama or embellishment. The author is well qualified, having worked with bears in the field as an ecologist and lived in bear country, yet he writes with a humble appreciation for the unknown about bear behavior. In many cases, Herrero provides what is known of the history of a certain type of situation (bear actions, human actions, responses on both sides), presents his best recommendation for how to handle it based on the history, and leaves it up to the reader to decide which way to go if confronted with such a situation.

It may be that appreciation of this book is enhanced if the reader has already a mild fear of bears and some memory of how he felt being alone in bear country, not knowing if there were bears around or what the hell to do if one turned up. Reading this book, I found out that I should have been more prepared and more careful in most situations — with pepper spray, some knowledge of bear sign, better clean-camp and food-hanging preparations. I definitely should have been noisier on the trail, especially in windy conditions. I should have been cautious in thick undergrowth and aware of the nearest trees to climb when in the open. And I should have felt at least a reasonable amount of caution toward the black bear; instead, most of my caution went out the window when I found out that the places I have frequented were not inhabited by the grizzly. (On a side note, back in Minnesota growing up we should have been much less tolerant of black bears getting into garbage and therefore hanging around the house. They do drag off small children occasionally, along with other aggressive actions.)

That said, though, this book isn’t meant to scare the reader. Knowledge of this information and attention paid to situations that may involve bears would primarily free a person to enjoy the wilderness more, not create unreasonable fear. I think I have spent more time unnecessarily worrying about Big Bad Bears than enjoying the wilderness that is their home, and the hope in reading this book is to learn enough to know how to enjoy while being cautious. Bears are not out to get me or my food, but they will do both if encouraged by humans.

I highly recommend people read Herrero’s book before heading into the outdoors wherever there are bears of any type. Those who live in areas where they and their neighbors regularly have experience the presence of bears have, of course, learned to deal with it; however, this book has some details and lessons to share for that type of situation as well. The first few chapters are mostly stories of bear-human interactions and their results; the latter half of the book talks more about bear behavior, diet and management; it is all worthwhile and important reading. I am keeping this one close with the intention of re-reading it just prior to my next trip.

Reading this book raised two additional points: First, I had to rewatch Grizzly Man, the Werner Herzog documentary about Tim Treadwell –bumped it to the top of the Netflix queue and finished it the same night I finished this book. I shall just state the obvious: Treadwell and Herrero have different perspectives on how people and bears should behave around each other. Also, I wish that some scenes were never included in that movie, such as most of the appearances of the Crazy Coroner Man. Yet other scenes make my heart race each time, like when the last reel of Treadwell’s footage changes so much or when the Float Plane Pilot Man (as opposed to the Crazy Helicopter Pilot Many) sings at the end.

The second thought raised by reading this book (and by our recent trip to Montana) is that groups of people going to the wilderness together, whether to climb a mountain or just to hike around, need to be on the same page and need to be more prepared than our group was this last time around. With that in mind, I’m thinking I will not travel in the wilderness and in bear country with people again unless we have a certain common level of recent reading — for starters, these books:

The Backpacker’s Field Manual (recommended by my sister Becky)
Leave No Trace: Minimum Impact Outdoor Recreation or a similar book on LNT principles
Bear Attacks
– The best guidebook available for the destination, if there is one

If someone was going on a guided trip with a qualified leader, this would be less necessary, nor would it be if it was a very small group or if everyone was experienced. But on a trip among equals with no formal leadership, I’ve realized that it is important to accumulate a shared foundation of knowledge and guidance. The use of group compacts, while it may sound overbearing or unnecessary, is also something I’m considering for future trips.