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Best of the Year Reviews

Best of Year: 2005


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Best Book Lists


















Best Books of 2005


By Ron Watters


Best Outdoor Books of 2005: Winners of the National Outdoor Book Awards and the following . . .


The Treehouse Chronicles:   One Man's Dream of Life Aloft.  By S. Peter Lewis.  Illustrations by T.B.R. Walsh.  TMC Books, Conway, NH  ISBN 0972030743


TreehouseLike the treehouse that Peter Lewis and his friends construct, this is a book permeated with love.  There is the love of work.  Love of using one's hands.  Love of nature.  Love of family and friends.  Using journal entries, explanatory captions and reflective sidebars, the book covers a three year period in which Lewis envisions and builds a masterpiece of treehouse.  For me, the book is somewhat reminiscent of the Whole Earth Catalog with its emphasis on the creative and inspirational power of the individual.  At the same time, the book is clearly a creation of the new millennial with stylist lay-out, and carefully rendered water colors, drawings, and color photographs. 


Amazon.com:  More Information or Purchase



Death in the Grizzly Maze:  The Timothy Treadwell Story.  By Mike Lapinski.  Falcon Press, Guilford, CT.  ISBN 0762736771


Grizzly MazeI've always enjoyed Mike Lapinski's work on bears -- and his pluck.  As a part of the research for a past book, he had a friend spray him with bear spray.  The experience left him stunned and appreciative of how disabling airborne capsicum powder can be.  Fortunately, he recovered from the experiment to write Death in the Grizzy Maze. 


In this book, Lapinski chronicles the life of Timothy Treadwell.  Treadwell received national attention and became something of media star for living unnaturally close to Alaskan brown bears.  Many bear biologists, however, felt he was pushing the limits, and, so it was in the fall of 2003 that he and his girlfriend were mauled and eaten by one or more bears in Katmai National Park. 


Lapinski retraces the twisting path followed by Treadwell which led to that tragic day in Katmai.  Along the way, we learn about these magnificent animals, their conservation, and the respect that they are clearly due.  


Amazon.com:  More Information or Purchase




In the Wake of the Jomon:  Stone Age Mariners and a Voyage Across the Pacific.  By Jon Turk.  International Marine / McGraw-Hill, New York.  ISBN 0071449027.


In the Wake of the JomonIn 1996 anthropologists discovered the 9,500 year old remains of a human that resembled the long-gone Jomon people of northern Japan.  The discovery raised fascinating new questions about the origin of Native Americans.  One of the key questions was:  could have the Jomon people crossed the icy and unforgiving waters of the North Pacific and reached North America? 


Jon Turk set out to find out.  Using small one-man sail boats and sea kayaks, Turk works his way north from Japan along the Siberian coast line.  What makes this book interesting are three interwoven themes:  the anthropological story of the ancient Jomons, the deplorable state of post cold-war Russia, and the stirring narrative of Turk's modern day adventure.  


Amazon.com:  More Information or Purchase




Walking the Big Wild:  From Yellowstone to the Yukon on the Grizzly Bear's Trail.  By Karsten Heur.  The Mountaineers, Seattle.  ISBN 0898869838


Big WildWhen I first received this book, I set it aside, thinking that it was another run-of-the-mill, long hike story.  How wrong I was.  It took only one chapter of Walking the Big Wild to get me hooked.  In easy going, yet illuminating style of writing, Heur tells the story of his 2,000 mile hike.  


Let me restate:  he hiked 2,000 miles from the northern Wyoming border, through Montana, and through British Columbia to Yukon.  These are not the well traveled paths of the Appalachian or Pacific Crest trails.  In many places, there are no trails.  In the end, he reaches his destination, but not without a little help from his friends and his loyal companion, a border collie named Webster. 


Amazon.com:  More Information or Purchase



Letters from the Woods:  Looking at Life through the Window of Wilderness.  By Michael C. Hurley.  Ragbagger Publishing, Raleigh, NC.  ISBN 0976127504


Letters from the Woods

This is a collection of Michael Hurley's essays that appeared in Paddle & Portage, a quarterly journal of canoeing.  I'm embarrassed to admit that as a long-time canoeist, I had never heard of the journal.  Now after reading a sample of Hurley's work, I'm really sorry that I hadn't. 


Paddle & Portage is no longer with us, but Letters from the Woods preserves the best of what might be called, for lack of a better descriptor, Hurley's homilies.  I found them a refreshing change from the brusque and edgy writing so common these days.  He reminisces about boyhood, family outings, and summer voyages, and always turns up a little gem of an insight that gives meaning to the simple pleasures of life in the woods.  


Amazon.com:  More Information or Purchase




Chasing Dreamtime: A Sea-going Hitchhiker's Journey through Memory and Myth.  By Neva  Sullawy.  Brookview Press, Castleton-on-the-Hudson, NY.  ISBN 0970764928. 


In 1975 Neva Sullaway takes off to sail around the world, and Chasing Dreamtime is about the adventure that ensues.  On one leg of the journey, she is held at knifepoint.  On another, she is arrested.  As the title of the book promises, Sullaway fashions something of dream world out of her experiences, effectively drawing the reader in, not letting go until the book's ending.  The book is not exclusively about outdoor adventure, but it is certainly is adventure:  like a later day Odysseus, she is blown off course, and the journey becomes long and eventful. 


Amazon.com:  More Information or Purchase




The Laugh of the Water Nymph and Other River Storiesby Doug Ammons.  Published by Water Nymph Press, Missoula, MT. ISBN 0-9761580-052950. (239 pages. Color photos.)


Water HymphOne of the first books to catch my attention this year was Doug Ammons' long awaited collection of writings.  Doug is a Missoula, Montana expeditionary kayaker.  In the 1980's and 90's, he was on kayaking's cutting edge, tallying up an impressive list of descents and appearing in several films.  Given that background, one would expect a fast paced, heart-thumping read, and, indeed, The Laugh of the Water Nymph is that.  But there's a deeper and intellectual side to the book that helps it rise above standard river fare.


At times, the book takes on a reflective quality.  Take, for example, Ammons' discussion of horizon lines early in book.  A horizon line, as a bit of an explanation, is a river runner's term.  A kayaker sitting a few feet above the surface of the river has a very limited perspective.  When approaching a rapid from the quiet water above, the river will seem to disappear, as if dropping off cliff. You see a horizon line in front of you and then nothing.  That nothingness afterwards can be distinctly unnerving.

Since that first day on the Lochsa, I've paddled a lot of rivers. Kayaking has shown me a lot of fun, a lot of seriousness, and a simple fact: life is full of horizonlines. They come in all shapes and sizes - accidents and jobs, people, marriage, and children. Time is the current that pushes us toward the edges of what we know, usually faster than we can cope. And flowing water is the current of time made real. I know that fear comes from doubt about where those horizonlines lead. I also know that the truths of life, large and small, are what lie beyond each one.

Ammons takes us over quite a number of horizon lines on his kayaking odyssey.  We venture to the rivers of Canada and Alaska, Mexico, South America and the Himalayas.  Throughout it all, he writes with sensitivity, humor and candor.


In addition to well-crafted text, the book is beautifully produced.  It includes an extravagant 36-page midsection with full-page color photos and two large-format pull outs.  Most color work in the publishing is now done in China and points far-east, but in a refreshing departure from that trend, Ammons who self-published the book had it done in northern Idaho. 


It's very reasonably priced at $29.95, and is available from the author at: http://www.dougammons.com/.




Links to the Best Books of Other Years:  See List



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