Friday, June 23, 2017
Book Review: "A Lady's Life in the Rocky Mountains"
I bought this used book at Christmas as a present to myself. This is now the fourth Christmas-present book I've read this year. (The others were: "The Singing Line," "Home Fires," and "Idyll Banter.")
This book may well be the best of the batch thus far. Isabella Bird has a lovely, engaging writing style, and the subject matter is very interesting. In the autumn of 1873 she spent time traveling alone in the Rocky Mountains, in the middle of a lengthy trip from the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii) on her way home to England. The book's text is her letters written to her sister back home.
Daniel Boorstin, who wrote the Introduction, was the Librarian of Congress from 1975-1987 and a noted historian, so this is no third-rate book. Each evening I regret leaving its reading until bedtime, when I've trained my brain to succumb to slumber upon opening the pages. I'll read this one during daytime when I can enjoy it longer.
Most fascinating are Bird's descriptions of life in the rural, rough human landscape of California and Colorado at this time. She's a horsewoman, unafraid of bears or camp living. Her accounts of how woman are treated (with respect), of travel (very uncomfortable), of the bugs (a constant cloud in the air and film over all surfaces) of immigrants to Colorado (many were there to cure illnesses in the rarified air) are fascinating! Because she's writing to her sister who knows her well, her words are matter-of-fact and personal. She is not trying to impress or sell, and the stylistic effect is refreshing.
She has lovely description:
"The beauty is entrancing. The sinking sun is out of sight behind the western Sierras, and all the pine-hung promontories on this side of the water are rich indigo, just reddened with lake, deepening here and there into Tyrian purple. The peaks above, which still catch the sun, are bright rose-red, and all the mountains on the other side are pink; and pink, too, are the far-off summits on which the snow-drifts rest. Indigo, red, and orange tints stain the still water, which lies solemn and dark against the shore, under the shadow of stately pines. An hour later, and a moon nearly full -- not a pale, flat disc, but a radiant sphere -- has wheeled up into the flushed sky. The sunset has passed through every stage of beauty, through every glory of color, through riot and triumph, through pathos and tenderness, into a long, dreamy, painless rest, succeeded by the profound solemnity of the moonlight, and a stillness broken only by the night cries of beasts in the aromatic forests." (15)
All her appeals to color and visual delight, augmented by the sounds and smell of the woods, plus the movements of the sun and moon, make this passage a nearly heady experience for the reader. I hope you can see why she is worth the read!
Isabella Bird was a world traveler for most of her adult life, and I hope to find more accounts of her globe-trotting. You can read more about her adventurous life at her wikipedia page. I'll be looking for more of her books in future.