Some good of­fer­ings for lo­cal arm­chair alpin­ists

The Sun Times (Owen Sound) - - FORUM - AN­DREW AR­MITAGE

Mon­tani Sem­per Liberi (Moun­taineers Are Al­ways Free)

The motto of the State of West Vir­ginia.

Read­ers/re­view­ers all have one or two or three sub­jects that they grav­i­tate to in time of need. Mine hap­pens to be moun­tain climb­ing. I think I got the “bug” in my early teens, grow­ing up as a most for­tu­nate son in the Kanawha River val­ley.

A few min­utes away by bike the wide, slug­gish Kanawha River was the re­cip­i­ent of ef­flu­ents from coal mines, glass fac­to­ries and toi­lets. The other way, about 10 min­utes on foot, were the hills. I ven­tured there of­ten, past old coal mines, tail­ing piles, and waste­water lakes, into the hills where I pre­tended no­body had ever come.

Yes, I took a .22 and a bag of shells. Af­ter shoot­ing my first squir­rel and watch­ing it fall branch by branch from a oak tree, I gave up the firearm, mak­ing way for a more peace­ful life­time to come. But I never got the hills of home out of my sys­tem – which led me to books of ad­ven­ture.

De­nali (Mount McKin­ley) in Alaska has been climbed many times but is al­ways good for one more book. That was pro­vided by Larry Se­mento in Tears in the Wind (self-pub­lished, $20). Cur­rently a judge in cen­tral Florida, Se­mento got the climb­ing urge while still a lawyer. Af­ter a few climbs, he signed on with a com­mer­cial guide and set off to as­cend North Amer­ica’s high­est peak – and made it to the sum­mit. The book is an in­di­ca­tion of the grow­ing pop­u­lar­ity of the sport.

And then, with the first snows of win­ter pound­ing my win­dows, I ven­tured up to K2. My guide was Peter Zuck­er­man and Amanda Padoan and the book was Buried in the Sky: The Ex­tra­or­di­nary Story of the Sherpa Climbers on K2’s Dead­li­est Day (Nor­ton, $22.95).

Eleven climbers died on K2 in 2008. This is a white-knuckle ad­ven­ture on the planet’s sec­ond­high­est moun­tain. It is also the place where I found out why peo­ple climb. “Peo­ple don’t’ climb be­cause it makes sense. You can come up with rea­sons – it gives di­rec­tion to the lost, friends to the loner, honor to the repro­bate, thrills to the bored – but, ul­ti­mately, the quest for a sum­mit de­fies logic. So does pas­sion. So does a trip to the moon. There are bet­ter things to do. Safer, cheaper, more prac­ti­cal. That’s not the point.”

K2 kills. And in 2008, the moun­tain out­did it­self. Like John Krakauer’s Into Thin Air, Buried in the Sky is a heavy breather of a book. And it won the Banff Moun­tain Book Award, enough rea­son to read it.

Moun­taineer­ing books al­low the read­ers to go back in time, back to when there were not the mod­ern aids that get men and women to the top. Don­nie Eichar’s Dead Moun­tain: The Un­told Story of the Dy­atlkovde Pass In­ci­dent (Chron­i­cle Books, $22.95) takes arm­chair read­ers back to 1959 when a group of ex­pe­ri­enced hik­ers met their fate in the Ural Moun­tains. They all died.

The book is a fas­ci­nat­ing por­trait of young hik­ers in the Soviet era. It is a skill­ful in­ter­weav­ing of their story, the author’s ef­forts to dis­cover why and how it hap­pened. Eichar re­traces the hiker’s steps lead­ing to the first real story of what hap­pened that night on Dead Moun­tain.

No, I didn’t spend the week freez­ing in high al­ti­tudes. In­stead, I dis­cov­ered Cal­ixa Lavalee. Don’t rec­og­nize the name, you may say? Most Cana­di­ans won’t but Robert Har­ris brings the tale of all of us in Song of a Na­tion: The Un­told Story of Canada’s Na­tional An­them (Pen­guin, $29.95).

I first heard the an­them while still in Den­ver. It was sung at the first hockey game I ever saw, the play­ers for North Dakota and Den­ver all com­ing from the north. I thrilled to O Canada when I stood up in a Bar­rie Court­room in 1976 while re­ceiv­ing my Cana­dian cit­i­zen­ship. And each time I hear the song, I shiver a bit. Har­ris says it best. “We all know the feel­ing. A slight un­ex­pected con­stric­tion in the throat. Heat ris­ing to the face. Tight­ness in the chest. Tears – tears! – welling in the cor­ners of our eyes.”

The story of O Canada is one of the great un­knowns of our col­lec­tive lives. It is the odd tale of a French-Cana­dian com­poser, a man who spent a decade in black­face, play­ing in Amer­i­can min­strel shows with a stop off while serv­ing with the 4th Rhode Is­lan­ders in the Civil War. Lavalee even­tu­ally came back to French Canada where he wrote op­eras, tried to start a na­tional mu­sic con­ser­va­tory, wrote O Canada in 1880 at the com­mer­cial re­quest of the Saint-Jean-Bap­tiste So­ci­ety (as an an­them for French Canada ) and then lived out his life in Bos­ton, dy­ing in 1891.

As an aside, to­day we re­coil in hor­ror at the stun­ningly overt racism of the min­strel show. And yet, when I came to the Owen Sound Pub­lic Li­brary, I dis­cov­ered a 1920s pho­to­graph of a lo­cal min­strel group, I think known as the Sea Is­land Singers. Min­strel racism came to Owen Sound about the same times as the KKK.

I have just about space to tell you of a new cook­book that will be rolled out at the Gin­ger Press on Nov. 17. The book is Heal­ing Cannabis Ed­i­bles: Ex­plor­ing the Syn­ergy of Power Herbs (Heal­ing Ed­i­bles, $27.95). The au­thors are Ellen No­vack and Pat Crocker.

There will be a sign­ing of the book by the two au­thors at 1:00 on the 17th fol­lowed by an ac­tual cook­ing work­shop with dis­cus­sion and demon­stra­tion. The cost is $175.00 (in­clud­ing a signed copy of the book) and prior regis­tra­tion is im­por­tant – call the Gin­ger Press for a place in the cook­ing ses­sion that be­gins at 2 p.m.

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