Wednesday, October 14, 2009

An Interesting Read

Yesterday my Book Club met to discuss Isabella Bird's A Lady's Life In The Rocky Mountains. When I first began reading this month's selection, I didn't care for it. It seemed to be all observation, no action. Novels are more to my liking. But as I plodded through the first couple chapters, I began to have a tremendous admiration for Ms. Bird and I enjoyed reading the remainder of this nonfiction book.

Isabella Bird was the daughter of a clergyman in England. Doctors recommended travel to other parts of the world to aid in ill health, and travel she did. She became a world traveler, and in the 1870's she set out to see the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. She didn't join a tour group as we might today. Au contraire! She rode horseback, wearing what she termed a "Hawaiian riding dress" which she'd purchased when in what was then called the Sandwich Islands. I was never able to determine exactly what the riding costume looked like, and I had a hard time getting the image of a mumu out of my mind. She talked to people who lived in the mountains and got general directions and thoughts from them, then set out on her own in late summer, staying through December, surviving snowstorms and bitter cold.

Hotels were far and few between, mostly in cities like Denver and Colorado Springs, so she knocked on doors of settlers' cabins and spent her nights with total strangers, most of whom were welcoming and willing to share what little they had.

Her fondest desire was to see Estes Park, and she managed to accomplish that under difficult conditions and with the help of a man known as Mountain Jim. She endured things that few women would ever have managed, kept her optimistic outlook, and survived myriad snowstorms. Exhausted by evening, she still spent time writing letters to her sister in Scotland, which eventually turned into this book.

By the end of the book, I had a tremendous admiration for this woman for what she'd accomplished in times when women were more coddled and kept discouraged from striking out anywhere on their own. And I also knew that I would have never made a very good pioneer nor adventurer.

The book has survived these many years, having a number of different editions, partly for what the woman accomplished and partly because of the lyrical prose she used to relate her experience. Beautifully written, it pulls the reader in slowly but powerfully.

The Book Club is a small group, only seven of us, but we had a lively discussion and we agreed we'd all  gained a great deal of insight into what life in the Rocky Mountains was like for those early settlers, as well as being awed by what Ms. Bird had accomplished.

We all like to read the current bestsellers, but I urge you to take a different path now and then by picking up a book written long ago. One of our book club memebers found it at a garage sale, read it and recommended it for one of our monthly selections. Thanks, Ginger!

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