"We fly, but we have not 'conquered' the air. Nature presides in all her dignity, permitting us the study and the use of such of her forces as we may understand. It is when we presume to intimacy, having been granted only tolerance, that the harsh stick fall across our impudent knuckles and we rub the pain, staring upward, startled by our ignorance." Beryl Markham (West with the Night)Whenever I’ve had a choice to make recently, I ask myself “What would Beryl do?” I just finished reading, or maybe a better word would be experiencing, her 1942 autobiography West with the Night. The book had an unsuccessful first printing, but was rediscovered in the 1980’s when this letter from Ernest Hemingway was uncovered:
"Did you read Beryl Markham's book, West With The Night? ...She has written so well, and marvelously well, that I was completely ashamed of myself as a writer. I felt that I was simply a carpenter with words, picking up whatever was furnished on the job and nailing them together and sometimes making an okay pig pen. But this girl, who is to my knowledge very unpleasant and we might even say a high-grade bitch, can write rings around all of us who consider ourselves as writers ... it really is a bloody wonderful book."All I will say in review of the book is that it is a must read. Beautiful and thought provoking and bold and fun.
Beryl and I share, as part of our life sequences, an obsession with horses in younger years that was dropped stone cold and unexplained in early adulthood for a new obsession with a fringe, less girlie activity. For her, the activity was flying—for me, it is climbing (Lucky for Freddie, my fiancé, that is where the parallels in our lives end, as I am very content being monogamous, and she, apparently, was not).
Anyway, Beryl’s book ended before she rediscovered her love of animals, which she did. And now, as I enjoy a more mature relationship with my dozen-years-and-counting climbing obsession, I find myself drawn back into relating with animals again too.
Instead of dreaming of the moves on the newest climbing project, my imagination is captured by thoughts of new ground to explore with Tagger the dog, our newest family member. Just as I would pour over the pages of Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills with questions about rope systems and glacier travel before, now I am reviewing the newest trends in animal communication to try to understand him. His machine of a nose, his full speed galloping gait, his mysterious eyes and his changing moods all amaze me, just as the nooks and crannies of Cathedral Ledge did when I first moved here (they still do!).
This all gets me thinking about horses again, of course, and dreaming of being a farmer. We are lucky to live on land in a place where if we wanted that, and worked hard enough for it, it could be a reality. But my imagination also goes wild with the possibility of spending the summer climbing mountains in India. The opportunities are in place for that as well, though also requiring hard work and commitment. So what am I to do with the little time available in this life? Well, what would Beryl do? I am going to guess she would just unabashedly, unapologetically, do it all. I’ll take that as a challenge.
Tagger the heating pad. Photo Anne Skidmore
"Life is life and fun is fun, but it's all so quiet when the goldfish die." -Beryl Markham