Monday, March 3, 2014

A Lady's Life in the Rocky Mountains by Isabella L. Bird

Free US/UK Kindle Classic
I like my history undistilled and that is hard to find.  But in A Lady's Life in the Rocky Mountains by English writer Isabella L. Bird comes close. (US Edition)  (UK Edition)  This is a book of edited letters by a world-class traveler.  In 1892, she became the first woman inducted into the Royal Geographical Society.  These letters were written 20 years before that honor.

The forest was thick, and had an undergrowth of dwarf spruce and brambles, but as the horse had become fidgety and "scary" on the track, I turned off in the idea of taking a short cut, and was sitting carelessly, shortening my stirrup, when a great, dark, hairy beast rose, crashing and snorting, out of the tangle just in front of me. I had only a glimpse of him, and thought that my imagination had magnified a wild boar, but it was a bear. The horse snorted and plunged violently, as if he would go down to the river, and then turned, still plunging, up a steep bank, when, finding that I must come off, I threw myself off on the right side, where the ground rose considerably, so that I had not far to fall. I got up covered with dust, but neither shaken nor bruised. It was truly grotesque and humiliating. The bear ran in one direction, and the horse in another.

She sounds like the perfect traveling companion, game for anything and not too full of herself.
At one point she is staying in a cabin with an unexpected and unwanted companion who does no work, causes catastrophes and eats more than his share.  Worse, he fancies himself a writer:

In one there are twenty lines copied (as Mr. Kavan has shown me) without alteration from Paradise Lost; in another there are two stanzas from Resignation, with only the alteration of "stray" for "dead"; and he has passed the whole of Bonar's Meeting-place off as his own.

She gets some small satisfaction after he starts raiding the pantry and stealing food.

Before the boy came I had mistaken some faded cayenne pepper for ginger, and had made a cake with it. Last evening I put half of it into the cupboard and left the door open. During the night we heard a commotion in the kitchen and much choking, coughing, and groaning, and at breakfast the boy was unable to swallow food with his usual ravenousness.

The "boy" is a former theological student.

We wish we could visit this wilderness she loved.  It is past recovery.  At one point she writes  of the "slightly musical ring of the lumberer's axe."  If she could visit today, she might recall the sound as something less lyrical.

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