Our annual list of holiday gift suggestions from distinguished readers and writers.
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ONE OF THE GUYS of reading in a cozy stuffed chair on a cold winter’s night is the delightful reassurance that you’re not out there. Outside. There’s nothing like a good book of outdoors adventure to make one really appreciate central heating and roofs that don’t leak, not to mention that hot cup of tea, the down pillow and comforter just waiting for the first drowse to hit.
Those of us still alive after the passing of a few decades must marvel that this is so—considering the really dumb things we’ve done along the way. As someone who has tried blue water sailing, river rafting, downhill skiing, and back-country hiking, I’ve probably had more than my fair share of close calls. A few more pounds of pressure on that boom that knocked me overboard east of Block Island, a few more seconds held submerged by that hole in the class-4 rapid on the Salmon River, that tree just a few more inches in my path during my barely controlled descent at Mammoth, another 20 minutes without the ability to start that campfire at a distant shore of the Queen Charlotte Islands, a drop or two more of that venom injected into my bloodstream by that black widow spider in the Blue Ridge Mountains, and I wouldn’t be enjoying this evening by the fireplace, surrounded by my dogs.
What’s chilling in the recollection of these near-death experiences is that had they gone really bad there would have been no one to blame but myself. Hubris isn’t reserved for all-conquering megalomaniacs. We can all succumb to it, in small ways with potentially lethal results. In each of my close calls a decision had been made, well prior to the event itself, that set an inexorable sequence of events in motion. In other words, I had charted the course and nearly sealed my own fate without knowing it.
Every rag-bagging old salt knows that as soon as you think about lowering sail you should go ahead and do it. To delay is to invite catastrophe. Kayakers know you do everything to avoid getting caught in the hydraulic, because once caught in the vortex no human can escape it with only his own wits or physical strength. Only the river can let you go. You should never ski downhill when overly tired and never faster than your skills can control the descent. You never, ever wade into freezing water without the certainty of being able to dry off and warm up quickly, and only certified fools pick up stones or branches in the wild with their bare hands without looking carefully first, especially at dusk.
Over the years I’ve discovered a handful of books that describe this syndrome of fate in the great outdoors. The stories range across much of the activities done all the time by regular Joes and weekend warriors, but include as well the nearly mind-boggling accounts of seasoned sailors, expert rock face climbers, and that rare breed of super-human that ventures into the Himalayan peaks above 18,000 meters.
My recommendations: Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why by Laurence Gonzales (Norton), Last Breath: The Limits of Adventure by Peter Stark (Ballantine), Panic Rising: True-Life Survivor Tales from the Great Outdoors by Brett Nunn (Sasquatch) and in a more historical vein, Stellar’s Island: Adventures of a Pioneer Naturalist in Alaska by Dean Littlepage (Mountaineers Books), an account of Vitus Bering’s harrowing journey of discovery across the North Pacific in 1741. Heat up the hot chocolate and go for it!
Ron Maxwell wrote and directed the movies Gettysburg and Gods & Generals.
READING and recommending: In My Time, by Dick Cheney. In Defense of Thomas Jefferson: The Sally Hemmings Sex Scandal, by William G. Hyland (Thomas Dunne). Detective novels—in particular any book by Linda Fairstein or Donna Leon’s Venice-based detective.
Veronique Rodman is director of public affairs at the American Enterprise Institute.
Witness, by Whittaker Chambers.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?