THE EMERGENCY LIBRARY

A few months ago, I mentioned here that my 1999 book about Robert Ruark, A View From A Tall Hill, was to be reprinted in a paperback edition by Skyhorse Publishing of New York.

At that time, the anticipated release date was March, but a few unforeseen circumstances — a plague, actually — delayed the departure of the manuscript for the printers.  As a result, it is now late May and still no book, but by the time you read this (July) it should be available.

In the meantime, I will be going into hospital for a quick (I hope!) bit of surgery to replace an arthritic hip (too many mountains, too many marathons) and one of the big questions I am now facing is, what book(s) should I take with me to while away the hours?

This is the same question I’ve faced in the past, departing on a trip to Africa or a long drive to Alaska.

Rigby Corbett rifle
Corbett Rifle Copyright John Rigby & Co.

For years, my irreplaceable companion when heading for Tanzania or Botswana was the Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway.  Some of those stories I’ve read a few times, others probably fifty times or more, but I know I can always re-read most of them.  Another favorite was Hemingway’s Islands in the Stream, a book no one but me ever seemed to like.

In 1990, when I went to Alaska to hunt mountain sheep the first time, I took Jack O’Connor’s Sheep and Sheep Hunting, and carried it all the way in to base camp, which consisted of a tent, a Coleman stove, and a cache of moose meat, accessible one white-knuckled passenger at a time by Piper Cub, bouncing down onto an alder-lined gravel bar.  When weight is at a premium, you ponder every ounce.  O’Connor in hardcover?  Well worth it.

A few years earlier, pursuing brown bears among other things, in Prince William Sound and living on a boat, I took a Jack London anthology as well as Frank Hibben’s Hunting American Bears, which includes his articles about Allen Hasselborg and brown bears on Admiralty Island.  On that trip, it rained for 21 days out of 23, including a stretch of 19 straight days of pouring rain.  Coastal Alaska in October.  One of my favorite memories from that oh-so-memorable trip is being anchored off a desolate island with raindrops drumming on the deck and bouncing off the grey surface of the sea and me with a cup of steaming coffee, warm and dry and living as I’d always wanted to.  Hunting is about more than hunting.  Far more.

I mentioned my impending hospital-book dilemma to a friend, who remarked that I wouldn’t need any, since hospital rooms all have televisions now.  He might as well have said they have a team of inquisitors and a rack.  If ever there was an incentive to get back on your feet and out of the place, it’s the prospect of television 24 hours a day.  Or even one hour a day, for that matter.

What books will it be, then?  I’m leaning toward Ruark’s Old Man and the Boy, Horn of the Hunter or Use Enough Gun, or maybe, just maybe, The Honey Badger.  An odd thing about this debilitating physical affliction of mine and my predilection for working to a fever pitch of enthusiasm by reading, is that for the past couple of years I’ve avoided any book that would make me want to go big-game hunting and thereby regret the fact that I can’t.  That meant no O’Connor, no Ruark, no Pondoro, no nothing.

Now, with my surgeon assuring me that hip replacements and backpacking up mountains go together like gin and tonic, maybe it’s time for a good dose of O’Connor to stir the juices.  I’ll leave Jeff Galloway’s Book of Running at home, however, since I have also been told I’ve run my last marathon.  Oh, well.  Some you win…–Terry Wieland

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