Wednesday, April 23, 2014

T is for Theodore Taylor's The Cay

 

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This isn't the cover on the copy I just read, but it is the one I recall from my childhood

Title: The Cay
Author: Theodore Taylor
Publishing Info: Delacourt Press, 1969.  137 pages.
Source: Library

Another Middle Grade Classic review!

Summary:
Phillip and his mother are traveling from Curacao to the US to escape the early days of WWII, when the freighter they are on is torpedoed.  When Phillip comes to, he is on a raft with only an old black West Indian man and the ship's cat.  To make matters worse, a blow on the head leaves him blind.  When they wash up on a tiny, deserted cay, Phillip has a lot to learn.

Review:
This book won a lot of awards, and it's easy to see why.  It tackles issues from war (touches on the topic, anyway) to racial relations.  Ultimately, it is about learning to see in a whole new way.  Philip is a pretty ordinary boy when the ship goes down.  But after 5 or 6 months on the cay, he is both extraordinary and no longer a boy.  I like that he has his horrid moments--not just times when he despairs, but times when he is hateful to Timothy, the black man.  He echoes the prejudices of his Virginian mother, just because he is angry, and he gives in to despair and refuses to work for days after going blind.  In other words, he reacts normally.  And then he rises to the occasion, even when he is overcome by grief and desperation.  We should all have a fraction of his courage.

Recommendation:
A quick read for anyone who likes exciting and inspiring stories.

Note: I also just found that Taylor wrote a prequel/sequel called Timothy of the Cay, which seems to have mixed reviews, at least on Goodreads.  I will probably check this out, because I'm a sucker to know more about characters I like!
 
Full Disclosure: I checked  The Cay  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."

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

S is for Sangre de Cristo Mountains and Great Sand Dunes

 

Down at the southern end of Colorado, the southernmost segment of the Rocky Mountains is known as the Sangre de Cristo mountains (they continue on down into New Mexico, ending near Santa Fe).  At at the base of these conveniently S-named mountains are the Great Sand Dunes, also S-named a really cool.  And we've had fun with both.

The Sangres are the site of the first "real" backpack trip we did with our boys, with no packers and no outside help (except a car shuttle).  They were barely 5 and 6 1/2, and about as big as their tiny backpacks. The trip was, alas, before our photography went digital, so I don't have much available to post, and those I have are scanned from slides.

I can't help looking at those chubby baby-knees and wondering what we were doing!
Snack stop--a very frequent event


Day three--the top of Venable Pass, and more snacks



The trip was amazing for what it was--three nights, 13 miles, from one side of the range to the other via three passes (we ran right along the divide for a couple of miles).  We started near Crestone and ended near Westcliff.
Approaching the Phantom Terrace, the amazing cliffy trail from one pass to the next.

The Great Sand Dunes we have visited several times (including the same trip as the packtrip above).  They are amazing--sand dunes, surrounded on 2.5 side by 13- and 14-thousand-foot peaks.  In the spring, the mountains have snow, and the creek around the base of the dunes surges like waves breaking over the shore.  The dunes are among the highest in North America, with the tallest being over 700'.*  And I'm pretty sure they are the ones at the highest altitude--the base of the dune field is nearly 8200'.

In addition to the cool creek (and how cool IS it to have a creek at the edge of a dune field?) the dunes are one of a handful world-wide that "sing" when conditions are right.  The shifting sands will set up harmonic resonances that are akin to the bass note on the biggest pipe organ you ever met, and can be felt through your whole body.

These photos are from a trip in 2012.
The edge of the dunes is abrupt, although there is plenty of sand in among the trees and sagebrush

The first hikers atop the main dune that morning, though it was a calm night so there were old prints.

The dunes are on the edge of the San Luis Valley in Colorado.


*Two other sets of dunes also claim to be highest: the Eureka Dunes in Death Valley National Park and the Kelso Dunes in the East Mojave National Scenic Area.  The Kelso dunes are another "singing" dune.

And I leave you with two filthy boys, enjoying the post-pack-trip tradition: ice cream!
Not Death By Ice Cream, but ice cream as the elixir of life!

Monday, April 21, 2014

R: Last of his Kind, by David Roberts




It's a shame I didn't need W instead, but there it is.  Instead of pegging it to the amazing mountaineer whose story this is, I've tied it to the biographer's name.

The Last of His Kind: The Life and Adventures of Bradford Washburn, America's Boldest Mountaineer



Title: The Last of His Kind: The Life and Adventures of Bradford Washburn, America's Boldest Mountaineer 
Author: David Roberts
Publisher:William Morrow, 2009

Review:
This one needs no summary, because it's all there in the subtitle.  It is the life of Brad Washburn, June 7, 1910 to January 10, 2007.  Washburn was an adventurer, an early climber and explorer of Alaska's mountains who began a love affair with climbing in the Alps as a teenager.  He was also a photographer and a pilot, and he was David Roberts' mentor.  The accounts of climbs are concise and vivid, and the personal relations are treated with gentle care, so that we do see Washburn as a whole person, but I never lost sight of the fact that Roberts loved and admired his mentor. 

Roberts insists that Washburn's greatest accomplishments are in his first ascents of a number of remote Alaskan peaks, with a secondary nod to his truly extraordinary photography (several examples of which are in the book).  But I agree with Washburn, who considered his greatest accomplishment to be his work with the Boston Museum of Science, where as Director for many decades he took the museum from the dusty do-not-touch model common at the time to be one of the leaders in the hands-on interactive museum style.  Helping to pioneer that movement is, in my opinion, a truly great act.

My only other complaint about the book is that Roberts spends a long chapter near the end recounting a couple of his own expeditions.  They are interesting to read about, and Washburn was instrumental in setting him off on them, but they are not really part of Washburn's story.  Roberts can be forgiven this bit of self-indulgence, however. 

Recommendation: For those who like mountains, mountaineering, and stories of the great adventurers of a nearly a century ago.  Also those who don't mind just a touch of hagiography.

Full Disclosure: I was given The Last of His Kind  by a friend with no connection to the author, 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."