A gift from my parents, On the Road With John James Audubon by Mary Durant and Michael Harwood is a travelogue and historical biography—and an enjoyable read. I recommend it if you like geography, history, birds, and travel. Especially if, like me, you aren’t deeply familiar with John James Audubon’s life story.
Tracing a person’s life by following his exact steps is an uncommon way to structure a book—and it works well here. Though the narrative started out a bit heavy on Audubon’s personal details, I felt that by the middle of the book the authors did achieve a balance of historical bits with modern day observations. Mixing snippets from Audubon’s letters and journals and examples of his famous illustrations, the authors wove together their story with his. Engaging with the places and people everywhere they went, adding flavor, detail, and humor as they explored the story with new eyes. (Note: though modern compared to Audubon’s day, this book was written over 30 years ago. Still relevant and interesting, however.)
A unique thing about this book is the trio of voices, where two authors—only one a “serious” birder—intertwine with Audubon’s personal account to create a fascinating description of a changing landscape and culture, of an America awakening to its vast natural treasures. Speaking to how important these treasures are for us to preserve, Durant and Harwood highlight over and over the troublesome relationship we’ve had as a nation with our animals, plants, rivers, coasts, and mountains. The struggle between conservation and exploitation of our resources.
Several times the itinerary followed a path similar to our own RV travels, places we’d stayed or visited. Which made me want to hit the road again! What I liked most about this book is how the authors combined their passions and interests into a compelling travel adventure. There’s something to admire in that; a story is more powerful when told with a purpose.
Faintly, along the shadowed shores of night
I saw a wilderness of stars that flamed
And fluttered as they climbed or sank, and shamed
The crouching dark with shyly twinkling light;
I saw them there, odd fragments quaintly bright,
And wondered at their presence there unclaimed,
Then thought, perhaps, that they were dreams unnamed,
That faded slow, like hope’s arrested flight.
Or vanished suddenly, like futile fears—
And some were old and worn like precious things
That youth preserves against encroaching years—
disappeared like songs that no man sings,
But one remained—an ember in the dark—
I crouched alone, and blew upon the spark.
You might know him from epic portrayals of the American West, pioneers, cowboys, women and men who built the new country. And a bit of a poet; the selection here is “An Ember in the Dark” from a collection named Smoke from this Altar.
Apart from the Westerns that made him most famous, this author’s other wonderful works deserve a mention, including:
Education of a Wandering Man, his life story—how he lived what he wrote about. How he started from humble beginnings in North Dakota and worked his way around the world, seeking adventure.
The Walking Drum, an epic historical novel about a man named Kerbouchard, another adventurer and seeker of knowledge, set in 12th century Europe and Middle East.
Who is this author? Can you guess based on this description?
Photo by Lance Willett.
As I post this, a balloon rises near our house and heads over slowly but surely—puffing hot air. Beautiful and colorful yet much too loud in the morning stillness. Neighborhood dogs whine as the flame whistles, WHOOOOSH.
It’s hot air balloon season in the Tucson Mountains.
This blew my low-brass mind. Seen at the Musical Instrument Museum.
Charles atop Samaniego Peak
Charles has the full story and photos of our recent hike to Samaniego Peak in the Santa Catalina Mountains: Samaniego Peak – June 2013. Very fun day, the tough final bushwhack to the peak and hot return trip notwithstanding. (And don’t miss his Hummingbird banding photos from earlier in the day, on Mt Lemmon.)
I’ve been thinking about this one particular canyon in the Santa Catalina Mountains for 15–20 years. Wondering what mysteries and beauty were held high up in the headwaters of the Cañada del Oro (often shortened to just CDO), a major watershed in the northwest Tucson basin.
About time to go tackle it, eh? Turns out it was also high on the list for good friend and fellow outdoor adventurer Charles.
Starting high in the Ponderosa pines.
Looking southwest to Cathedral Rock, Window Rock, and Mount Kimball.
Looking north-northwest down the west fork of the CDO drainage.
Blue is for … adventure.
Pretty tall, 4-5′, maybe Bracken (Pteridium equilinum).
One of hundreds of stream crossings.
Amazingly wet canyon.
Cattle fence near the junction with FR 736.
We set out very early Saturday morning and hiked about 9 hours: 7am to 4pm, covering almost 21 miles down from atop Mt Lemmon to the end of Lago del Oro near Saddlebrooke. (Huge thanks to our ladies for the dropoff and pickup.)
It was wonderful! Water, water, water. Did I mention water? We were both blown away by how wet the canyon was; it continued to flow on its northward bend even after we joined the Charouleau Gap road.
For all the beautiful evidence see Charles’s great set of 26 photos from our adventure and his full route profile via GPS (elevation, mileage, etc).
Hat tip to Sirena Dufault for her thorough report about this exact route—very helpful in our planning.
The fascinating story of the missing “Sandy Island” in Pacific Ocean.
The island that everyone thought was there, but no one actually bothered to check. Crazy. (Via NPR.)
A very talented bluegrass band from our corner of Arizona, Run Boy Run, is super hot right now, with two recent appearances on A Prairie Home Companion to go with their 2011 top prize at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival.
Check out their freshly released first full-length album, “featuring original songs, traditional tunes, and a favorite cover.”
Erin and I were thrilled to catch Run Boy Run in concert last Sunday night at Hotel Congress, in downtown Tucson; we heard many tracks off this new album. Superb! I absolutely loved the rich vocal harmonies and full sound of this 5-person band.
You might know Louis L’Amour from his epic portrayals of the American West, pioneers, cowboys, women and men who built the new country. He was also quite a good poet. “Forest People” is one of my favorites from the collection Smoke From This Altar, perfect for the muddy springtime when the critters leave their story on this spot of land we call home.
I read their story in the sand,
Another in the snow,
They write it with their tiny feet
As they come and go;
Here one stopped to eat awhile,
There one paused in fear—
This was a sparrow’s landing field
With marks of his running gear;
Their joys and woes and tragedies
Are written clear and bold.
Their swift, minute biographies
The tracks they leave unfold.
Coyote and small mammal tracks in the dirt outside our place; our “Sand People.”