Friday, January 2, 2009

Book Recommendation: "I Married Adventure"

I love a good true adventure story that is well told. There is nothing better than a good book in front of the fire, curled up with some cats and dogs, especially when it's nice and snowy outside. So December was a good month to tackle this book, kindly loaned to me by the Boise Public Library since I am too cheap in this era of cost cutting to buy anything. I chose one of National Geographic's recommended top 100 adventure books.

"I Married Adventure" by Osa Johnson is the story of two kids from Kansas who travel the world. Martin Johnson is a very early photographer who takes a voyage with Jack London, films cannibals in the South Pacific, and embarks on a life of photography and adventure. Osa, his young wife, doesn't realize what she has signed up for at first but is just the type of woman who is up to the challenge, accompanying him on a wide variety of adventures.

The Johnson's encounters with cannibals are interesting to read about, and of course my favorite part of the book covers their adventures in Africa. I am always interested to read of how people found the same parts of Africa I've been to a hundred or more years before I saw them. In part, this is terribly sad - so many rhinos now gone, with almost every book containing tales of killing them. This particular tale is quite interesting on a number of levels because the Johnson's have no interest in killing animals, have a great respect for the natural world, and want to capture animals in their native environment. They are in unchartered territory though and so despite good intentions and a progressive philosophy for their time, they have a negative impact as well as a positive one. They have to kill meat for their crew of African porters, which they find distasteful, but learn to do. In their now known to be misguided efforts to get action films, they will sometimes flush out wildlife and when it charges in a way that is dangerous to them, or they startle an animal they are too close to, they kill it. This is a shame, and though they seemed to think so too, they did it more than once.

Also, their footprint was large - cars and stuff galore rather than the canvas tent approach. But, no doubt they were less of an impact that many modern operations, and they had no idea about the sensitivity of planing domestic crops in pristine wilderness, not feeding wild animals table scraps, etc. Many innocent mistakes were made, including taking in some wild pets under questionable circumstances. It is oh so easy to see how this could happen. Though they wanted to capture what was natural, in remote tribes of people and in animals, they often without appearing to realize it influenced the behavior of the people or animals so that what they got was not actually "natural." They did not stage things, but I don't get the sense they were aware of how much they altered them either. They did have guts and take risks though. (I would not film a pride of lions on foot 10 feet away, that's for sure).

On the plus side, their films and photos interested and captivated and educated and any motivation for people to respect the natural world is a great thing in my view. The story is a very interesting one and a good read. Osa had an adventurous life by any standards but especially for women in the early 1900's her life was most unusual indeed. Highly recommended if you like this sort of story.

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