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  • Dave Butler

Yearning for Travel


By Dave Butler


In their final posts before Christmas, Pam wrote about making memories, her aversion to materialism, and doing more with less. Greg, on the other hand, described his own aversion to cozy mysteries (wow… the things you learn when you get to know someone…). From here in the frozen north, I could hear Greg’s shocked gasp when a reader suggested that his latest eco-thriller ‘Rare as Earth’ was as “almost a cozy.” Yikes.


My 2020 aversion, if I must write about one, was putting my passport in a drawer. Like many, I’m sure, I could not move freely or safely for the past nine months, whether locally or internationally. That restriction was one of the prices we paid this past year – and rightly so -- to deal with COVID-19 (at least those of us who chose to follow public health rules). I do understand, however, that forgoing travel is a first-world problem, that many people cannot afford to travel whether this current pandemic is circling the globe, two and three times, gathering frequent flyer points as it goes.


For now, I dream about returning to Costa Rica and Namibia, and to favorite places closer to home like the west coast of Vancouver Island, or the foothills of the Canadian Rockies. And I read about travel, living vicariously through trips taken by others.


So, for my post this month, I highly recommend two books that are much more than travelogues – they are stories of places past, present and future, and of the people who live, work, and play in landscapes being altered by humans. And best of all: they're written by two fellow British Columbians who I consider to be friends.


* * *


‘Blue Sky Kingdom: An Epic Family Journey to the Heart of the Himalaya’ by Bruce Kirkby

This is an enchanting, heart-warming story, at times funny, at times deeply thoughtful and soul-searching. For those who watched the TV series 'Big Crazy Family Adventure,' this is the untold story of the three months that author Bruce Kirkby, his wife Christine, and their sons Bodi and Taj spent at the Karsha Gompa monastery in the Zanskar Valley in the Himalayas. This, after traveling from their home in Kimberley, BC by way of container ship, bus, train, horse, and river.

Kirkby is a writer, photographer and adventurer whose journeys span 80 countries. He crossed Arabia by camel, Mongolia by horse, and Iceland on foot. A travel columnist for the Globe & Mail, and former contributing editor for Explore Magazine, Bruce’s writing has appeared in The New York Times, Outside, EnRoute and Canadian Geographic. Two previous books well worth reading are “Dolphin’s Tooth,’ and ‘Sand Dance.’


‘Blue Sky Kingdom’ is a story not only of a family adventure on a grand scale, but it's a captivating look at a lifestyle that is vanishing, and yet, is a critical counterpoint to the increasing role that technology and "busy-ness" plays in our daily lives.


This is a wonderful story, well-told.


It will make you smile, and make you think.


* * *


‘Magdalena: River of Dreams’ by Wade Davis


In his sublime lyrical style, famed anthropologist and author Wade Davis tells the story of Colombia, using the Rio Magdalena as a thread that weaves through the story. It's a beautiful, enchanting book written by an incomparable story-teller with the eye of a poet and a heart as big as the river.


From the headwaters to the sea, Davis follows the Rio Magdalena, along the way describing a country that was brutally occupied by the Spaniards, underwent numerous civil wars, was dominated for decades by major drug cartels, and is only now seeing the light of freedom. Its diverse forests and unique wildlife populations were devastated, as were the cultures of indigenous peoples. They are beginning to come back, but – not unlike many other places around the globe -- the battle of wills between the economy and the environment still plays out there.


Davis, described as "a rare combination of scientist, scholar, poet, and passionate defender of all of life's diversity" is more than qualified to write about Colombia and its people and history, about the Rio Magdalena, and about the country’s natural environments. He is an ethnographer, writer, photographer, and filmmaker, and received his Ph.D. in ethnobotany from Harvard University. Davis spent more than three years in the Amazon and Andes as a plant explorer, living among 15 indigenous groups in eight Latin American nations while making some 6,000 botanical collections.


* * *


While my passport gathers dust, and while we wait for rapid COVID tests and vaccines and open borders, these two books, written by skilled literary craftsmen like Kirkby and Davis, are – in my opinion -- the next best thing to being there.

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