Monday, July 25, 2016

Middle Grade Monday: The Island of Beyond

This is a book I picked up because my Maine friend mentioned it (see last week's photos). I think the author's a friend of a friend or some such. Close enough to make me pick it up (especially since we just visited a lake in Maine) and far enough not to affect my review in the least :)

Title: The Island of Beyond
Author: Elizabeth Atkinson
Publisher: Carolrhoda Books, 2016, 288 pages
Source: Library

Publisher's Summary: 
Eleven-year-old Martin can hardly imagine a worse summer. His dad is sending him to his great-aunt Lenore, who lives on a tiny island called Beyond. Martin's dad wants him to like "normal" boy things--playing sports and exploring the outdoors. Martin's afraid he'll never be the son his dad wants him to be. Being stuck in the middle of nowhere won't change that.

But nothing about Beyond is what Martin expects. Not peculiar Aunt Lenore, not mysterious Uncle Nedâ-and certainly not the strange, local boy who unexpectedly befriends Martin. Solo can canoe and climb trees and survive on his own in the wilderness, and Martin's drawn to him in a way he doesn't quite understand. But he's not sure he can trust Solo. In fact, can he trust anything about this strange island, where everyone seems to be keeping secrets?

My Review: 
A lovely story, with twists and undercurrents, some of which are left to the reader to sort out as he or she pleases. In some ways, this reminds me of Fireflies (reviewed in April), but with more depth, and a beautifully drawn setting.

Martin isn't a character that I felt at first I could relate to. He's a total city kid, hooked on his video games and scared of everything outdoors (kind of the opposite of me). But I soon found him to be a real human, with real problems about not fitting in, feeling like he can't measure up to expectations, and so on. And he finds out that what he needs is what he finds on the Island: people who just accept him for who he is. In fact, it might be a little too simplistic in that sense--but it doesn't feel like it. It feels real, as he blunders his way through new experiences.

There are issues with Martin and his father that they are going to have to sort out some day. Maybe there are more books coming, but I almost hope not. We can imagine the battles they will have over the coming months and years, and don't need to see them :)  And there is just a hint about Martin's sexuality, though nothing is ever made explicit, and he is much more concerned with learning to have a friend for the first time in his life.

This is suitable for kids from about 8 up. Adult issues are well filtered through a child's eyes, and aren't the focus anyway. Yet the book feels like it has enough depth to keep the interest of older children and adults.

FTC Disclosure: I checked The Island of Beyond out of my library, and received nothing from the writer or publisher in exchange for my honest review.  The opinions expressed are my own and those of no one else.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising." 

Summer reading sale--The Ninja Librarian and Return to Skunk Corners--just 99 cents!
And yes, work is underway, slowly, on Book 3, The Problem of Peggy

Friday, July 22, 2016

Friday Flash: Replay

The Ninja Librarian has gone hiking again (or still, depending on when you last visited). So we're having 
Friday a bit early.

This one's from April 2014 and might help answer the question of what I'm doing out there...

Pete the Peak-Bagging Pika

This is a pika. He would be just a bit large to hold in your hand. He's also a wild animal, so if you see one, treat him with respect and don't try to pick him up.
Pika Pete wasn't like the other pikas.  Oh, they all liked the rocky talus slopes high up on the mountains.  But for most of them it was enough to find a burrow near an alpine meadow where they could harvest their winter provisions and watch the seasons change from the front porch.  Pete was different.

Pete would sit on his front porch and, instead of looking down over the meadow and thinking about eating grass and harvesting stalks of delicious flowers, and preparing for winter, he would look up at the high peaks and dream about climbing them.  He already had the top apartment in the talus, so high he harvested the columbine and sky pilot that grew among the rocks, or climbed to the next meadow, rather than joining his neighbors down below.  Yet he still wanted to go higher.

"I don't know why," Pete told his neighbor, Pika Paul.  "I just do.  I want to climb to where I can see in every direction at once.  The rock pile is so confining."

"The rock pile is safe," said Paul.  "If you can see in all directions, you're hawk-bait.  A pika needs a tunnel at his back."

Pete knew that.  But he could see that even the tops of mountains had rocks.  So surely he could find shelter at need, however high he went.

One day Pete decided to stop thinking about climbing the mountain and start actually climbing.  It was summer, so there were plants everywhere he could eat on the way.  He'd gathered an extra-large pile of stems and leaves the day before, and they were carefully laid out on his porch to dry for the winter.  He could afford a day or two for adventure.

With a cheery “eep-eep” to his neighbors, Pete started climbing.  It was easy as long as he was on the talus.  Pikas are very good at running over rocks, almost as though gravity was only for lesser, two-legged creatures.

At the top of the rocks was another meadow.  Pete paused, scanned earth and sky for danger, and dashed to the other side.  He then snuck back out for a mouthful or two of grass.  That was one danger passed, and a good time for a snack!  Then he was off, climbing through a new jumble of rocks.

Pete repeated this process for hours.  Sometimes the bare patches were larger or smaller, the plants swaying columbines or tiny mat plants, but he kept going, aside from pauses to nibble when he got hungry.  Gradually the rocks grew smaller and the bare patches barer. The slope was very steep and sometimes slippery with gravel.  Pete got tired.  Pikas are tough alpine animals, but they are used to running in short bursts, not trotting uphill all day.

At last Pete realized that he wouldn’t be able to finish his climb in a single day.  The “summit” he had seen from his porch was only a ridge on the way up, and the top of the mountain was much higher and farther off than he’d imagined.

A bit of a search found some cubbies under the rocks.  Pete rejected a couple of them because they smelled of other animals, or things he wasn’t sure of.  But not many things lived so high, and soon he found a snug hole, dragged in a few sprigs of phlox, and settled down for a good rest.  Pete found he could sleep anywhere, as long as it was under a rock.

In the morning, Pete went on.  An hour or so later, he nearly gave up.  A big field of snow blocked his way.  Snow!  In mid-summer!  As a pika he of course knew all about snow.  He spent long winters hiding from the snow, snug in his den with his provisions all around him providing insulation as well as dinner.  In the spring he and his fellow pikas had to deal with snow as provisions ran low, though they worked around it as much as possible.  But to meet snow now!  A pika was too easily seen against the white.  Crossing a snowfield was both cold and dangerous.

A little exploration, however, showed Pete a way around the snow, and he scuttled along, considering the idea that there might be places up here where the snow never did leave.  It was a strange thought.

Shortly after noon, Pete reached the summit.  A big pile of rocks gave him a safe approach and a cozy place to rest.  After a good look around for hawks and eagles, he stood for a minute on the very highest boulder, turning to look in all directions.

Everywhere he looked he saw another mountain. 

When Pete started back down from his first summit, he had a lot to think about.

He went down the far side.

Like what you read? Take advantage of the summer reading sale and get books 1 & 2 for only 99 cents each!  
And if you enjoy the pictures, consider
It has pikas :)  And the ebook is always 99 cents! Paperback is only $7.99, 26 pages in full color!

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Wednesday Wanderings: Sequoia National Park

Okay, confession: we spent 5 days in Sequoia NP...and only saw a few of the big trees as we drove by on our way out.  How did we do that, you ask? We spent our time far above their habitat.  Here's the scoop.

Day 1. After driving up from SF late on Friday, we had to rise early Saturday to go stand in line to get a backcountry permit. I miss the days when we just signed in at a trailhead and started hiking, but it's a reality. Numbers have to be limited in too many areas. We get our permit, and even after eating breakfast and finishing our packing, we are ready to hit the trail at something like 9 a.m.
Yes, I'm making breakfast on the curb. With deer. And using a paper towel as a coffee filter.
The trail to Pear Lake, our first camp and the only one that is a) below treeline and b) restricted, is crowded with dayhikers. That doesn't ruin the scenery, and people-watching can be a distraction from the hard work of carrying a first-day pack up 2000'.
A prime feature of the Lakes Trail is the Watchtower, with what must be nearly 1000' of vertical relief.
Flowers along the way are amazing. Lower down, we saw leopard lilies and wild geranium along with lupine and paintbrush. Up near the lake (9500'), it was mostly penstemon, with delicate yellow columbines.
This was the only time we got any clouds to add interest to the photos, or relief from the sun.
Pear Lake was beautiful, as advertised.
Evening light on the lake.
Perfect morning reflections.
Day Two. This was the end of trails and the end of other campers nearby. We were up early and off up the slope above the lake (out of sight to the left of the picture), while other campers watched from below, possibly wondering if we had lost our minds (or thinking that we had the right idea. It all depends). The sun rose as we topped out the first rise in a veritable garden of wildflowers.
It took about 3 hours to make our way over several more ridges and into the area called the Tableland. We kept going until we were well onto the "plateau" (a great deal more ridged and slopey than it looked on the map) and found a decent alpine lake. Then we spent the better part of an hour searching for a campsite with views, a breeze, and access to the water. We ended up with a pretty good compromise.
Mosquitoes were pretty bad. Thus the desire for a breeze--and the strange headgear.
Sunset view from camp. No clouds, but a fire to the south made for some colorful haze.
Day Three. It got pretty cool overnight, and we saw the evidence as we set out for a long dayhike.
Ice on the snow-melt pool.
Our goal for the day was the top of the King-Kaweah Divide, and a few lakes just over the other side. We got seduced by the wrong drainage, and got a good view of an extra canyon, before finding our way around to overlook Deadman Canyon.
Two unnamed lakes that are our goal. Distant peaks are part of the Great Western Divide.
Big slabs of granite gave us easy access to the upper lakes (Big Bird Lake is barely visible above to the right of the peaklet). But the cliffy rampart was a surprise, as maps suggested we could climb out that way. No way.
Idyllic Sierra lakes.
We explored the lake basin, peered over the edge at Big Bird Lake, but as the shortcut back out was clearly a no-go, we didn't drop all the way down. Instead, we climbed back up more or less the way we came, and circled around to the high point above the lakes.
The lakes are behind me, where I am carefully not looking down the cliff.
By the time we returned to camp, it was after 5, and we'd been out hiking (and photographing and eating) for 9 hours. It was tiring, but better than hanging around in camp swatting mosquitoes and cooking under the blazing sun. There was just time enough for a bath (and then another bath in DEET) and dinner before the sun went down and the evening chill iced the mosquitoes.

Day Four. Another early start, as we had an ambitious day. Our change of plans on Day 3 had left one lake unvisited, and we resolved to explore it before moving camp to our final position.
Backlit flowers and low light are one of the benefits of an early start.
We didn't do a very good job of selecting a route, which meant we spent a lot of extra time scrambling up and down slopes. Eventually, however, we reached the saddle that gave access to the  basin housing Lonely Lake. We rambled about, eventually descending to the lake and enjoying a pleasant wade on the sandy beach at the upper end. (That was also where we saw the marmots.)
Not back to camp until after 2, we rested for an hour or so before packing up and heading for Moose Lake, our final-night destination. Happily, unlike all the dayhikes, the hike to Moose Lake was much shorter than I thought it might be, and we settled into camp about 5 p.m.
Descending to Moose Lake
There were still no clouds, so no great sunsets, but we had a different view of the peaks and a nice perch not too far from the lake. The buzzers were more bite-y here, so that bathing was tricky. You were fine in the water, but the transition from lake to clothes was perilous indeed!
The photographer at dusk. That would be the other photographer, my husband.
Day Five. The final day. We knew we had a tough one ahead of us--2 or 3 miles cross-country, then about 6.5 miles of trail to reach the car--and a 5-hour drive home. With the alarm set for 5:30 a.m., we were able to hit the trail just before 7. We didn't neglect the photos even with a tight schedule.
Moose Lake at sunrise.
Shooting Stars
A huge clump of paintbrush halfway across a rough traverse.
It took us nearly 3 hours to reach the trail, and only 2 1/2 hours to reach the car from there! Route finding and picking your way over boulders and through brush can be a slow process. Long ago there was a trail all the way to Moose Lake, and for some of the distance we were able to follow it. But when the going got tough--the trail apparently got going, because it was nowhere to be found!
Sorting ourselves out at the car.
Sick and tired of trail lunches, we were happy to stop at the Lodgepole Visitor Center and the campground store, where we happily chowed down on burgers & fries (and fruit), and chased it with ice cream. We were home in time for a late dinner!
When you come to the end of a great hike, you deserve ice cream.

©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2016
As always, please ask permission to use any photos or text. Link-backs appreciated!

And the sale goes on, while the Librarian is out hiking! 
  Only 99 cents each!