domingo, 21 de agosto de 2011

Adventures in the Rocky Mountains

Adventures in the Rocky Mountains (Penguin Great Journeys, 2007)
by Isabella Bird
England, 1879

My own Rocky Mountains adventures having been limited to an infinitely less noteworthy occasion in which I once almost got snowed in at Denver International Airport for two weeks during a Boston-LAX layover, I first picked up Isabella Bird's late 19th century travelogue-in-letters (excerpted from her 1879 A Lady's Life in the Rocky Mountains) out of pure curiosity--looking for a change of pace from some heavy duty fiction I was reading at the time.  So imagine my surprise when less than 20 pages into the account of Bird's journey from San Francisco to the Colorado Territory in 1873, a stranger's anecdote about the Donner Party leads Bird to share a stomach-turning description of how the rescue party found "the German, holding a roasted human arm and hand, which he was greedily eating" (18).  Thanks a lot for the suggestion to read something lighter, Jill from Rhapsody in Books!  This grisly, "secondhand" moment aside, I should make clear that the rest of Bird's letters (written to her sister Henrietta in a style that's straightforward but animatedly attentive to local color) thankfully concentrate on what it was like for an intrepid single British lady to make her way through some wild and predominantly male-populated regions of  the U.S. West, mostly on horseback but occasionally by train, at a time of transition evident even to a foreigner.  There are many enthusiastic nature scenes for those who like that kind of stuff, some vivid accounts of local desperadoes who cross the plucky Bird's path, and--perhaps most interesting of all to this reader--a depressing analysis of one of the pressing public policy concerns of the time: "The Americans will never solve the Indian problem till the Indian is extinct.  They have treated them after a fashion which has intensified their treachery and 'devilry' as enemies, and as friends reduces them to a degraded pauperism, devoid of the very first elements of civilisation.  The only difference between the savage and the civilised Indian is that the latter carries firearms and gets drunk on whisky" (93-94).  (

Isabella Bird

Up for Grabs
My copy of this book, a very short read at 119 pages, is up for grabs to the first person who claims it via comment below.  Will ship worldwide.

6 comentarios:

  1. But Richard, cannibalism IS something lighter for YOU! :--)

  2. I wonder what the Penguinistas chose to omit for this abridgment?

    I've read Bird's book on Japan, but not this one, which has become a Western Americana classic.

  3. I had never heard of Isabella Bird, and then you and Litlove posted on her on practically the same day! Small world.

    I'll refrain from signing on for your copy, since abridgments tend to bug the hell out of me, but I'll definitely be on the lookout for Bird in future - she and the world in which she traveled sound fascinating.

  4. How about that - Emily alerted me to our twin posts! I wrote more about her life than her work, and actually have a copy (unabridged) of this particular book to read. Just can't wait for the arm-eating incident now! ;) But she was an extraordinary woman, incredibly brave and resilient in the worst conditions. The only thing she couldn't do was stay home and be gently bored.

  5. I d like this richard ,I ve not heard of her but she sounds like a real pioneer type figure for her days ,all the best stu

  6. *Jill: Tsk, tsk...

    *Amateur Reader: Good question considering this version is only about a half or a third of the size of the source text. Bird was quite the world traveler for a sickie, though, eh?

    *Emily: I suspect you would enjoy Bird's take on being a woman in a man's world so to speak, and she writes quite well to boot. The areas she was traveling through on this journey are sort of intrinsically interesting on their own, of course, given the natural grandeur that Bird writes about and the fact that Colorado still hadn't become a state yet.

    *Litlove: I owe your posts another visit, but as Emily has said, what a small world! Your description of Bird also speaks to the portrait of her that emerges even in abridgement here--found her an interesting travel companion despite her period prejudices and a "resilient woman" without anything too self-serving about her own descriptions of herself in difficult circumstances.

    *Stu: The book is yours--just e-mail me your address when you get a chance (see my profile for the contact info). This is a nice little narrative, and Litlove's description of Bird above should give you an excellent idea of what you're in store for from your tour guide!