July in the library: Outdoor Life!

By Richard McKay ~

I asked south campus librarians Larry Gainor and Lynda de los Santos to come inside for a minute and hunt up some books on the great outdoors.

You may stop searching the night skies for signs of alien life; Larry’s first pick is all the proof you need that they walk among us.  Lars Eighner’s Travels With Lizbeth: Three Years on the Road and on the Streets (HV 4505 E44 [Texana Collection]) is the author’s record of hitchhiking through all sorts of places he probably shouldn’t.  He brought his dog with him, too.  I’m still not convinced that this was a good idea.  Their Iliad of inconveniences and embarrassments would probably be funny if they were made up.  Mr. Eighner seems a literate and engaging person, but I can’t help thinking that a frank talking to at an early age might have done him good.  The dog (Lizbeth, of the title) has no speaking parts besides “woof,” and bears the manifold hardships of road life with commendable stoicism.

Larry also found Roger A. Bruns’s Knights of the Road: A Hobo History (HV 4504 B78).  By the hoboes’ own admission, newbies eager to chuck it all for a life of wandering and destitution are getting hard to find, and Knights was written in the late ‘70s.  The hobo is, or was, a traveling day laborer, distinct from the tramp, a wanderer who cannot, or will not, work, and the bum, ditto, but non-wandering.  They tend towards colorful nicknames: Pennsylvania Kid; Frisco Jack; Sparky Smith.   After reading a few paragraphs at random I pronounced the hobo lifestyle incompatible with clean bathrooms and kitchens, and turned to Larry’s next selection.

While we’re on the topic, what bathroom can be complete without a copy of Larry’s next suggestion, The Worst-Case Scenario Almanac: Great Outdoors (GF 86 B68 [Student Life Collection])? Let’s check out “Most Dangerous Himalayan Peaks,” where we find a gallery of awful places with evocative names: Annapurna, Nanga Parbat, and K2 head the long list of places to admire from far away.  The list is arranged by climbers’ fatality rate, and although the statistics in the almanac differ from the ones I got in a Google search, all sources agree that number three on the list, K2, is one bad bear.  In fact, many skilled climbers say that it’s the nastiest mountain on Carl Sagan’s pale blue dot.  The Almanac has it that fully one climber in seven who manages to make it to the top dies on the way down, and if you need a better reason to restrict your encounters with dangerous mountains to the ski lodge bar, I’d like to hear it.  Just FYI, the redoubtable Everest is number 10 on the list.

 Here comes Lynda, lugging the ponderous Wilderness Medicine (RC 88.9 O95 M36).  The thing has got to weigh a good ten pounds, so don’t even think of making room for it in your backpack, but you’ll search hard for a more fascinating (or for a scarier) look at the multitude of dreadful things that can happen to us out-of-doors.  The book consists of articles by a small army of subject experts in such arcana as polar medicine; wilderness cardiology; bites by venomous reptiles in the Americas; bear behavior and attacks; and other disciplines you’re better off not knowing about.  It’s a great way to waste ten minutes, if you were looking for one.  Outdoor life is, however, not without its risk: Wilderness has way too many pictures taken on the worst day of someone’s life.  Let’s put this one back on the shelving cart while we’re all still in a good mood, and resolve to keep a respectful distance from angry critters.

It’s a telling commentary on our patrons’ lives that Lynda’s next choice, The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook: Extreme Edition (GF 86 P58 [Student Life Collection]) has been checked out quite a few times.  But I’d put this one on the optional reading list unless you’re planning to vacation around mudslides or calving icebergs, in which case you might thank yourself later for a little reading on the front end.  Much of the advice is intuitive.  I especially enjoyed rule number one, under “How to Survive Nuclear Fallout:” “Put distance between yourself and the blast site.”  In fact, “be somewhere else” is cracker-jack advice for mishaps and catastrophes alike.  If the people shown in Wilderness Medicine had followed it, for instance, the book wouldn’t be as thick as it is.

Lynda also offers us William Powers’s Twelve By Twelve: A One-Room Cabin Off the Grid and Beyond the American Dream (GF 78 P68), the author’s memoir of self-realization through rustic simplicity.  What do you know, but all the fulfillment he was looking for was right beside him all the time.  If that nugget keeps you from moving to a shack with no utilities, fine.

Lynda recalls learning about edible wild plants while at camp, so she was attracted at once to our Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants (QK 98.5 A1 A53).  I checked the title page for a subtitle like “a handbook for optimists;” nope.  The text is conversational, and was obviously written by someone who’s found and eaten these plants himself.  My problem with this is that I can’t imagine eating any of them in amounts that would even qualify them as a side dish.  Yet consider: “When Pere Marquette and his band journeyed from Green Bay, Wisconsin, to near our present Chicago…it may have been these wild leeks that were his main food.”  The wild leek in question is also known as the wild onion.  It grows in our area; you may have some in your back yard.  Its bulb would fit easily in a slingshot.  You may be sure that a doughty group trekking overland and depending on them for their “main food” had a problem on their hands.  Be somewhere else.

Idyll:  That’s our maintenance building, in embryo, and we’re looking due north over what is now Parking Lot 6.  (See the attachment).  The stern geometries that now dominate the background of the area in the photo were, at the time, little more than agenda items at the monthly hospital administrators’ meeting.

The Personal Column: Win a date with a strenuous outdoorsperson!  For your convenience, I narrowed the field to two historically renowned outdoor types.  Bring your own Ouija board.

·         Theodore Roosevelt.  Win: Used to swim buck nekkid in the Potomac.  Lose: Used to swim buck nekkid in the Potomac.

·         Henry VIII.  Win: Before the violent mood swings that troubled his later years he was celebrated for his athleticism and his general good humor.  Lose: He was clobbered so hard during a tournament that he was unconscious for a couple of hours.  Even the most sympathetic observers agreed that he was never quite the same after he woke up.

Until next month, please have the foresight to be somewhere else should the situation call for it.