Thursday, 13 February 2014

The Bees - Carol Ann Duffy and some mountaineering book reviews

       I did not mean to be away for the past few weeks, but a bout of bronchitis and recurring flu in the house has kept me busy.  Last week was our first full week of health in the house since before Christmas.  I just took my son's temperature - he is very warm and flushed, but no fever yet - so we'll see how long the good health holds out for.

I have been reading mountaineering books since the beginning of February.  Especially Mt Everest and K2 have intrigued me, the terrible tragedies on them.  Here is a link to Ed Viesturs describing the 1996 Mount Everest tragedy.   Another link is to the K2 tragedy of 2008.
  I am enjoying my time in the mountains, reading about climbers and their dramas on the mountains.  Not enjoying in that so many have died, but enjoying reading their stories, and why they climb, and what happened to them.  It's real life on the mountain, where a mistake can be final. I've read three so far:

 A Day to Die For by Graham Ratcliffe.  About the 1996 Everest disaster.  Graham was on Everest, part of another team that was at the highest camp on the night the disaster took place.  They were supposed to summit the next day, and  arrived after dark, and no one from the teams caught on the mountain knew that they had arrived before the storm.  So when the lost group of climbers got down to the tents but couldn't find them, no one thought to check Graham's teams tent for volunteers to go out into the storm to help bring the survivors back.  In the end only one climber went out again and again, Anatoli Boukreev, who saved three climbers that night.  For a long time Graham tried to not remember that night, repressing many of his emotions and grief, feeling guilty and haunted by the deaths of the climbers.  He knew the two guides who died, and met many of the others who died or who survived the storm, while they were all acclimatising at base camp before the climb began.   Graham learns something about that night - the claim that the storm was 'rogue', bothers him, when he digs deep and learns that one if not both teams, as well as the IMAX team (who were shooting the first IMAX movie, Everest, one of it's highest grossing films, during the climb), were using weather forecasts to help determine the best clear days to go up the mountain.  No one will admit it to him, so the story ends on an unresolved note.  Aside from that, it is gripping as he goes back into his memories, and recounts what happened that night.  It is well-written, and it offers another view of what happened that night.  In contrast, Jon Krakauer wrote his book Into Thin Air as a way to recount immediately what happened, and to ask why and how it happened, within a year of the tragedy.  He was climbing with one of the groups involved, but did not get stuck on the mountain.  I have just begun this book, so I am very curious to compare it to Graham's account.
Freedom Climbers by Bernadette McDonald.  This is written by a Canadian author who has written 7 books on mountaineers.  This one won the Boardman Trasker Prize, one of the main prizes awarded in mountaineering literature circles, every year.  It traces the history of Polish climbers in the Karkoram range, where Everest and K2 and many of the other 8,000 meter mountains are found.  The Poles started climbing in High Tatras as a way to escape the confines of the Russian rule over their lives after World War 2.  Why were so many Poles such good climbers?  They were desperate for freedom, and climbing was one way that they could leave Poland and be free, even if only for a month or two.  Many were excellent climbers, among the world's best. They were proponents of alpine climbing in the Himalayas, which means climbing solo or with a partner, carrying only what you need to climb and to survive in a tent with, as light as possible.  No sherpas to carry up supplies and lay lines and tents.  Man against mountain, and they set the standard for climbing with style, and finding and ascending many of the most difficult routes up a mountain. I had no idea that Poland had produced so many of the world climbers of the 1970's through the 1990's, when they climbed every mountain there was to climb, especially in the Himalayas.  The woman considered one of the best female climbers ever, Wanda Rutkiewicz, was Polish.  Many of them died on the mountains.   I really enjoyed this history, and meeting the amazing world of Polish climbers.  It makes me proud of my heritage (my grandfather was born in Poland).
No Way Down by Graham Bowley. Written about the K2 2008 tragedy, when 11 people died after climbing K2.  What happened?  How could this happen 12 years after the disaster on Mount Everest?  The circumstances are different - no snow storm, no guide leaders dying - but there are too many similarities, too.   Staying too long on the summit, a bottleneck of climbers at a crucial passage early in the day, and plans gone awry when ropes aren't laid before the climbers arrive to begin the climb to the summit, and more than one avalanche, which trap so many on the slopes after sweeping away the ropes that lead down past a difficult section on the mountain,  set the scene for an escalating tragedy.  Only one person was carrying extra rope, which is extraordinary when all of the climbers were experienced mountaineers.  This was a well-written story of what happened, with as much eye-witness accounts as possible included. Gripping, fast-paced, I couldn't put it down.  K2 is the second highest mountain in the world, and as I have learned, is more deadly that Mount Everest.  More people die who summit on K2 in ratio than on Mount Everest. 

 I also have another 5 mountain climbing books out from the library.  And all because of Dan Simmons' The Abominable!  I am enjoying discovering about this world that I knew so little about before.  It is also helpful that when I step out in the morning and it's -20c, I can console myself that on Mount Everest, that is the temperature it is above 28,000 feet, as the climbers start to make their way up the final climb to the summit.  I know how they feel in the cold, and why waiting an hour or two for passages to clear, is a bad idea for a climber up there. 

And now for something different:
   In the meantime, it is February.  I am looking for any sign of spring, which so far is in the lengthening of days.  I've found some poetry that brings back spring for me:  for Christmas, I bought myself The Bees by Carol Ann Duffy, England's Poet Laureate.  The Bees is one of her newest poetry books.  I fell in love with two poems in it:

 Virgil's Bees

Bless air’s gift of sweetness, honey
from the bees, inspired by clover,
marigold, eucalyptus, thyme,
the hundred perfumes of the wind.
Bless the beekeeper
who chooses for her hives
a site near water, violet beds, no yew,
no echo. Let the light lilt, leak, green
or gold, pigment for queens,
and joy be inexplicable but there
in harmony of willowherb and stream,
of summer heat and breeze,
each bee’s body
at its brilliant flower, lover-stunned,
strumming on fragrance, smitten.
For this,
let gardens grow, where beelines end,
sighing in roses, saffron blooms, buddleia;
where bees pray on their knees, sing, praise
in pear trees, plum trees; bees
are the batteries of orchards, gardens, guard them.

 And my one of my new favourites, this delightful poem comparing writing with bees:


Here are my bees,
brazen, blurs on paper,
besotted; buzzwords, dancing
their flawless, airy maps.

Been deep, my poet bees,
in the parts of flowers,
in daffodil, thistle, rose, even
the golden lotus; so glide,
gilded ,glad, golden, thus -

wise - and know of us:
how your scent pervades
my shadowed, busy heart,
and honey is art.

In our cold and snow - it was -23c this morning when I left for work in the pre-dawn darkness, so cold that just waiting for the bus my toes started to get that cold seeping through my boots - in the cold and snow of this long and very cold winter we are having, these two poems remind me that spring is coming.   The bees and butterflies will come, and colours, flowers, fragrance, leaves, scents (and oh how miss smells in the air!), all the wonders of spring, summer and fall.  I want to watch bees dip into my flowers and hide in some of the blossoms, content, drunk. 

I love that last line of  "Bees" - honey is art - poetry is art, too.  Our world needs both, bees for everything to live, and poetry to let us see the world with new eyes. 


Kailana said...

I am looking for signs of spring, too! Br! It is in the minuses 20's right now. Not sure on wind chill.

Cath said...

I love the sound of your mountaineering books. Isn't it wonderful to feel a need to find out as much as you can about a certain subject? I get hit like that sometimes too. Oddly enough I too picked up a book about mountaineering in the library several days ago: Middle-aged Mountaineer by Jim Curran. Enjoy your new subject, Susan!

Susan said...

Kailana: You have a big storm heading your way! I was complaining to my sister that we are so cold it is pushing all the storms south, and to you. We might get a little snow tomorrow, and of course the wind and windchill. It was -19c when I left for work this morning. I need some warmer temps! Good luck tomorrow with your storm.

Cath: Jim Curran is a big name in mountaineering! I don't have any of his books yet, but I have seen them referred to. I look forward to your review!

It is fun to be caught up in this unexpectedly. I am so curious about it, and having fun reading the books and learning about this subject. It's fascinating. I'm also surprised - these are non-fiction, and I've already reached my total of non-fiction read all last year!

Cath said...

Oh right, I didn't know Jim Curran was a big name in mountaineering. Well there you go. :-) I just saw it in the library while I was wandering (the same wander where I spotted What Makes this Book so Great... seems I should wander round the library a bit more, lol) and nabbed it for one of my random grabs as I'm not averse to a mountaineering book either.

I like the idea of reading about things you would probably never do yourself. Like climbing mountains or cycling around the world. Well done on your non-fic total! I'm on my fourth so need to up my game a bit there if I want to beat last years total.

Anne Simonot said...

I too love mountaineering books. One of the best I've read is Forever on the Mountain; can't recall the author's name. Maybe it's already in your stack. I think I'll be hunting down a copy of that K2 book.

Susan said...

Cath: I think you should wander more! lol you got a good haul there just with that one wander :-)

How many non-fic did you read last year? I've been trying to read more over the past few years and have failed dismally, so apparently I needed an interest to be kindled first! lol

Anne Simonot: I don't have Forever on the Mountain yet to read, though I have heard of it. I'll look for it harder now that I have your recommendation for it :-) Thank you! I hope you enjoy the K2 book. I have a few more from the library that I am reading now. I'm happy to hear you enjoy mountaineering books also.