Thursday, March 18, 2010

Must Reads

Let me tell you, I just fell in love with two books, one about a Grandmother in Siberia and one about kayaking in the ocean off the coast of that cold and poverty stricken land. Jon Turk, trained originally as a PHD chemist, tossed all the academic temptations of an easy life and struck out for high places, wet places, cold places. He's been adventuring and writing about such places since he ditched CU.

First, I heard him speak in Denver, a speech which he opened by balancing on an exercise ball, holding a sign in each hand; one said Logic, the other Magic. When he finished, I was willing to believe in both. He showed us slides of Moolynaut, the Grandmother Shaman of Siberia, a 100-year-old reindeer herder, until the reindeer herds dwindled and all but disappeared, leaving the Koryak people at the mercy of perestroika--no dependable food supply, erratic power, virtually no communication with the outside world, too much vodka, too little respect for a life that had sustained them for thousands of years.Then I read his books.

In The Raven's Gift, Turk recounts his healing under Moolynaut's guidance from serious, chronic pain following a smashed pelvis suffered in an avalanche years earlier. As Turk said, he was not taught to believe in shamanism, but under the circumstances of reinjuring himself in Siberia, he had little choice but to try. And the healing invoked there has lasted. He again indulges in extreme skiing, open water kayaking, and mountain biking. Turk met Moolynaut during a layover to wait out a storm when he and a partner were paddling from the northern tip of Japan, up the coast of Siberia, and slightly southeast again to Alaska. Why? Because he could, and because he thought he might travel In the Wake of the Jomon, the title of the other book. Turk figured he loved adventure and might share such an attitude with the ancient ancestors of the Ainu people of Japan, who left an apparently adequate setting to challenge the perilous Atlantic in canoes.

What grabbed me was the immediacy of Turk's writing, his willingness to be on the page, admitting his own fears and feelings, whether waking up in a tent pitched on a grizzly bear path or facing another horrific avalanche. I found scenes lurking in my head while I was doing other things than reading. I don't want to kayak in frigid water, eat fatty, ethnic foods that I suspect would not pass our supposedly stringent food inspections. I don't want to ski anything, let alone the highest, most dangerous mountains a human being can access. But I'm very glad that Turk does these things and reports back.

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