Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Extreme Landscapes, edited to Bernadette McDonald

Bernadette McDonald oversees a collection of inspired writing, in celebration of the International Year of the Mountain (2002), in Extreme Landscape: The Lure of Mountain Spaces. She invited authors with a wide range of expertise, from mountaineer and photographer to philosopher and ethnobotanist, to contribute to the overall discussion through their essays of mountains, their effect on people, and people's effect on them. And what a discussion! The quality of writing here is well above the average mountain collection, with thoughtful and intelligent prose in a variety of styles---the poetic and hypnotic effusions by Ehrlich on the experience of Greenland, the blurring of landscape and belief by Schaller, the symbolism and human understanding of Amy, the blending of South and North by Davis, and so much more.

Everest is but a small part of this collection---often used as an example to make a point. Sid Marty shows us that in places such as Everest, some of the places that we treasure the most as a natural wonder have also had extreme human impacts upon them. John Amatt tries to create some lessons from his experience with the 1982 Canadian Mount Everest expedition. Dermot Sommers (Everest, '93) laments the slow disappearance of Khaling Rai, among other mountain heritage languages. Reinhold Messner (Everest, '78, '80) looks for a more controlled, intelligent, and natural use of mountains within Europe. Rick Ridgeway (Everest, '76) profiles Doug Tompkins and Yvon Chouinard as they turn their commercial success into mountain conservatories in South America. Ed Douglas connects the story of his visiting the Kama Valley, east of Everest, to the story of his late father and his passing. Both Bernard Amy and Edwin Bernbaum play with Mallory's "Because it's there..." quote, Amy suggesting that people climb mountains more because they are over there than simply because they exist, and Bernbaum defining Mallory's "it" as "the experience of a deeper reality that gives meaning and vitality to [mountaineer's] lives," poetically declaring that Mallory disappeared into the "it" that was there on Everest.

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