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Wild Moments – Ted Williams

6 March 2016

I haven’t been able to get out much this winter. I’ve been working much longer hours at the bookshop. The weather conditions haven’t been conducive to walking. I had a really bad fall that left me slightly concussed on one evening walk in the dark.

I’ve really been missing the out-of-doors.

In the meantime, I found a great fix in this beautiful collection of shorts, originally written for various American outdoors magazines by Ted Williams. As I read it, I wondered if this man’s articles might have been one of the inspirations behind a book I published back in the 90s, Natural Acquaintances. I must ask the author next time I see him.

The cover attracted me to this book, too. That and the fact that I've been starving for nature.

The cover attracted me to this book, too. That and the fact that I’ve been starving for nature.

Wild Moments is divided into four sections: one for each of the four seasons. Each season contains about forty shorts, each focussed on a particular creature’s life at that time of year. Most of these shorts are really short – less than a page long – yet each is packed with tantalising information. The reader will want to get outside and check the nearest forest for signs in her own neighbourhood.

Not only did I learn things about insects, animals and plants that I can find here through the year, I was also able to armchair travel to other ecosystems around the continent to discover interesting wildlife there. I found myself making notes of what to look for if I ever visit the West Coast or the Rockies again…

The illustrations by John Burgoyne have an old-fashioned look, reminiscent of antique engravings of Audubon prints, or old botanicals. The detail, captured in pen and ink, lends to the sense that an old soul of the wilds put this book together.

If you know someone who has been languishing in an urban setting for too long, or a teen who is just starting to open his eyes to the natural world, this book would make an excellent gift.

As for me, I’ve started getting out again on the warmer days, and thanks to Mr. Williams, I’m just that much more aware of all the little things that are happening in the woods around me.


Finders Keepers 13

4 March 2016

Another Post Card. I guess you could call this another sort of armchair travel. I wish I’d found this a few years ago. We travelled very close to this route on our way to Tennessee, and it would have made an interesting break from the road to see this natural wonder.
Cave PC mini

Cave verso

Finders Keepers 12

2 March 2016 1 Comment

Here’s something a little more recent.

This will warm up a winter day!

This will warm up a winter day!

Island House – Posie Greame-Evans

29 February 2016

Unfortunately, I don’t like all the books I read. In addition, I find it very difficult to abandon a book I’m not enjoying. I feel like I owe it the chance to redeem itself as it continues, perhaps. Maybe it’s just the ethic behind putting one’s hand to the plough and seeing the furrow through. I don’t know.

Another thing: I really don’t like writing reviews on books I don’t like. Someone worked hard to write this, and their book is a part of them. I know I’d find it very difficult to read a bad review of something I’d written. I’ve made a commitment to reviewing every book I read this year, though. Telling it as I see it is how I operate. So, here goes….

Island House

I like the cover…

Generally, I enjoy reading stories set in Scotland. I have very fond memories of the country, especially of the North. I love the landscape. I love the history. I have roots there. As a person with imagination, I see the potential for great stories under every heather bush.

The Island House begins in a bad way for me, though. The prologue goes beyond foreshadowing. It just gives the whole story away.

Then there are the characters. They are all disappointing. I just couldn’t connect with any of them. Their actions and behaviour were predictable and not at all inspiring. They gave in to their weaker nature throughout the story. The one exception might be Walter Boyne, but he plays such a small role that readers will find themselves overwhelmed by the selfishness/self-absorption of the other characters.

The archaeological work that goes on is anything but realistic. As someone trained in the science, I found myself cringing every time the modern characters went out to dig. Although I was eager to learn what was found, I was more eager to call in the authorities and save the site from irreparable damage! And the finds and their condition were impossible to believe.

There just isn’t any brightness to this novel. Every group represented is showing little but the worst of its dark underside. So much ugliness and evil needs a strong counterbalance if the story is to have any emotional depth. There’s no real conflict because everything and everyone is just sinking into the morass.

You know the ‘protagonists’ are doomed from the start, so as a reader, there’s no hope in the book for you, either. The romance between the modern day protagonists reaches a positive conclusion. I’m not giving anything away in saying that, believe me. Even that relationship is following a completely predictable, lack-lustre course. The attempt at creating tension by forming a love triangle is ineffectual.

I’m so sorry to say that this is one of the most boring, shallow and disappointing novels I’ve ever read. All the more so because all the ingredients are there to make it into something amazing. Just leave it on the shelf.

Finders Keepers 11

27 February 2016

Look at this beautiful scene! One of my favourite finds in books is old post cards.

This one is so beautiful. It's an odd size, too.

Especially if there’s a letter to read on the other side. This one was sent in 1913.

Teepees Postcard back

Why was it such a hard pull? Was Tanner operating a railway jigger (that’s only half a joke)? Or was this an emotional pull?

Is this a descendant of ‘The Falcon’, this E Tanner?

Did Tanner live in Carberry, or was the little village another stop on a longer journey?

So many questions…

Finders Keepers 10

25 February 2016

I would be happy to return this memento to the winner, who must have gone to some effort to win it:

Prize Ribbon1
Prize Ribbon 2

Dead Lucky: Life after Death on Mount Everest – Lincoln Hall

23 February 2016

A friend of mine brought in several books the other day and we made a trade. He got a book on creativity, and I got a couple for the shop and one for my Everest shelf in my personal library.

I think he suspected that’s where this one would end up.

You see, Peter always comes into the shop when I’m unpacking an interesting lot; he must smell them as he walks past the door. He comes straight to my desk, picks up the choicest item (to my mind), and says, “How much is this one, Elizabeth?” and I respond, “I’m sorry Peter. <add put-off excuse here>” Once he even got tetchy with me.  I do feel really badly to be denying him a great read. But my selfish streak is more powerful. It’s the collector in me. And I do love my polar exploration and mountaineering books. I really am sorry, Peter.

I like to think this book was his way of saying, “I understand.” LOL Maybe he was saying thank you because I finally let go and sold him one from my Antarctic collection.

I have a particular fascination for Everest, so Dead Lucky got a bump up my reading list – right to the top. And it didn’t disappoint.

Dead LuckyLincoln Hall was part of a pioneering Australian Everest expedition in 1984. The expedition had a bittersweet ending for him: he was the only one of who didn’t summit. He got on with his life, of course, climbing other great mountains, getting married and starting a family, becoming an author and the editor of an Outdoor Australia magazine, and so on. Always tugging at his subconscious, though, was the summit of the world’s highest peak. Deep down, Hall still craved the view from the Top of the World. To be able to say, “Yes, I climbed Everest,” and then, “Yes, I did make the summit!”

His opportunity came with a 2006 expedition, as a cameraman filming the ascent of a teen who hoped to become the youngest ever to summit. He answered the call, even though he really didn’t feel that he was as prepared as he should be.

There are several things I really like about this book. Reading it, I felt more like a friend talking to Lincoln about the whole experience of climbing. He shares his concerns about his readiness, his rationale, his family, his hallucinations on the mountain, his insecurity over the effect of his words and actions on others while he suffered the effects of cerebral edema, how his beliefs came into play and affected his survival…. He is frank. Readers become a part of the experience, perhaps feeling a little off balance at times but never to the point that we are overwhelmed. The harsh reality of climbing in the Death Zone is there. Fortunately, we have a good guide we can trust, very much like Lincoln Hall himself did.

There are betrayals both real and perceived in this story, too, some of which are resolved, others that Hall understands he will never understand. He accepts that and walks away from them. That latter response was one that took a strength of character not surprising, perhaps, in one who has survived something no other climber ever has. Any one of the four conditions he suffered from should have killed him. In fact, he was believed to be, and abandoned as, dead above 28,000 feet. Lincoln Hall’s response to betrayal, more than anything else in the book, has given me a lesson I will be thinking about for some time, all the more so because it wasn’t intended as a lesson, just as a statement of how he coped with what happened to him.

Finally, it’s about drama in real life. People who have so much going for them throwing their lives at a 29,000 foot mountain of rock, ice, snow, thin air, and incredible danger. I still don’t understand that. I probably never will. And what I don’t understand often fascinates me. I never could turn down a good mystery.

Finders Keepers 9

21 February 2016

Remember I wrote a blog involving the Fife family not long ago? They keep coming up. And not just because I’m dealing with that lot of books I bought from their library….

The Fife Hardware really was one of Kenora’s institutions. But they weren’t the only hardware in town. This little item came from a book that came from the shelves of a descendant of one of the ‘rival’ hardware families, the Lindstroms (of Lindstrom & Nilson). And it brings an interesting question to my mind: How did this fellow happen to get a (then) new and unused envelope from the competition?

Never mind. It made for a good bookmark!

Fife env

Finders Keepers 8

19 February 2016

It isn't unusual to use whatever slip of paper is at hand...

It isn’t unusual to use whatever slip of paper is at hand…


...but sometimes that slip of paper has an unusual story of its own to tell!

…but sometimes that slip of paper has an unusual story of its own to tell!

Put that in your pipe and smoke it, Border Security!

Portage Into the Past: By Canoe along the Minnesota-Ontario Boundary Waters – J. Arnold Bolz

17 February 2016

I’m always on the lookout for regional history, both for my personal library and the book shop. I was tidying up my shelves the other day when I came across this one. I’d forgotten I had it. Not only that but, since it is the only one I’ve ever come across, I’d forgotten such a book even existed. I began to read…

I wish I’d known about it when I first started learning about this area’s history. Originally published by the University of Minnesota Press in 1960, Portage into the Past serves as a wonderful little introduction to the Fur Trade era and the Boundary Dispute that made this portion of the Canada/US border one of the last to be determined. And it does all this in a very novel manner.

Bolz, J. Arnold. Portage into the Past (Minneapolis, U of MN Press, 1960) Sixth Ptg. 1979.

If you find a copy, this is a wonderful introduction to Boundary Waters history!

The author and his wife are both outdoor enthusiasts and history buffs. Bolz has spent years amassing a library of original source material about the route between Lake Superior and Rainy Lake. They decide to invite a friend who runs an outdoor tripping business to go with them on a five-day canoe trip following the trade route. They plan to introduce him to the region’s history through reading excerpts from the diaries and journals of early travellers and surveyors around the campfire each night and at various stops that they make along the way.

The result is that readers experience a wonderful blend of the past and the route as it had become by 1958. Their friend also ends up catching the history bug, and by the end of the trip he, too, is taking a turn at reading the passages aloud. All three of them spend their breaks from paddling trying to find the exact location described by Henry, Hind, Delafield or any of a number who left a footprint on the trail over the past 250 years.

The book is illustrated by Frances Ann Hopkins, John Bigsby and Francis Lee Jaques, all of whom travelled through at some point in their careers during each of the three periods of history covered.

While the book offers only a superficial history of the Boundary Waters, it does so in an entertaining manner that encourages readers to go farther, and provides an excellent list of primary sources to facilitate further study.