‘The Winter Pony’: Touching Tribute to an Unsung Hero

The Winter Pony is a terribly sad story. It’s also a touching tribute to an unsung hero of the race for the South Pole in the early 1910s.

If you’re familiar with the epic race between the triumphant Norwegian, Roald Amundsen, and the bumbling dunderhead, Englishman Robert Falcon Scott, you know how the story ends. Lawrence adds a new twist. He tells the story of Scott’s ill-planned, ill-prepared and ill-fated polar expedition through the eyes of one of 19 ponies brought along on the expedition, a “plucky little animal” named James Pigg.

James Pigg (Pinterest). Was this plucky pony the REAL hero of the Scott expedition?

Pigg’s early life is a product of the author’s imagination. But many of the subsequent facts Pigg narrates regarding the Terra Nova’s voyage to the South Pole and the expedition itself are true.

 

It is likewise true that Scott was lauded as some kind of national demi-god for some 60 years after his arrogance and incompetence likely got himself, his men, and the ponies killed on the unforgiving ice. Meanwhile, Amundsen was seen as a scoundrel who had the bad manners to snatch the prize of First to the Pole from the more deserving, long-suffering British.

 

What hogwash.

 

That load of horse hooey was largely put to rest by Roland Huntford’s thoroughly documented, meticulously researched, The Last Place on Earth.

Lawrence alludes to Huntford’s work on page 242 of The Winter Pony. But he doesn’t name it. He doesn’t have to. I recognized it. I’ve read it.

 

In the same section, Lawrence makes the case that “Scott was nothing if not kind to his ponies.” The author believes that Scott’s “kindness” and his “reluctance to push the animals too hard in the first year of his expedition” wound up killing Scott (p 242).

 

Perhaps. A better argument would be that if Scott had Clue One and truly cared about the ponies, he wouldn’t have brought them to that God-forsaken icy wilderness in the first place.

 

Clearly, the South Place is no place for ponies. Not even for one as “plucky” or as big-hearted and sweet-tempered as old James Pigg.

 

The Winter Pony is a fresh look at an old tragedy from a unique point of view. It’s beautifully written. Compelling and engaging. At times it’s reminiscent of Anna Sewell’s Black Beauty. I read it cover-to-cover in half a day.

 

As sad as this story is, it’s good to know that the celestial points of navigation above Antarctica were recently named in honor of the ponies and dogs who served and died in man’s quest for the South Pole. It’s a fitting tribute to the animals who worked so hard and gave so much in the race to the last place on earth.

The Winter Pony is a sturdy story. Definitely a worthy read. You may want to bring tissue. And an extra blanket.

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One Small Step…

“That’s one small step.”

Just four short words. Followed by a few more. And we recognize them instantly.

Public domain

Today is the 50th anniversary of one of the most notable achievements in human history: landing a man on the moon.

It’s remarkable. Transcendent. Historic.

I remember the day. I was nine years old.

Mom herded us kids into the living room to the old black and white stereo/console. “This is an historic event!” she exclaimed. “No one has ever done this before!”

“Done what?” I asked, not quite sure what all the hubbub was about.

“Neil Armstrong is about to walk on the moon!” Mom crowed, brown eyes flashing.

I had no idea who “Neil Armstrong” was.

But everything came to a standstill. I’ll never forget those grainy images from the moon. Armstrong’s iconic comments. Walter Cronkite whipping off his glasses and kind of shaking his head in awe, astonishment, and pride. My siblings and I watched, mouths agape, not fully comprehending the enormity of the moment. That took a few years. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CNE7Il3fs9M

What American astronauts and their team achieved on July 20, 1969, was, to put it mildly, an epic achievement. It set the gold standard of what good ‘ole American ingenuity, stick-to-it-iveness and know-how can accomplish.

It’s sometimes easy to lose sight of the fact that the Apollo 11 crew of Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins were part of a bigger team. Like the entire crew at Mission Control in Houston. Thousands of additional employees and support personnel. Naval personnel who retrieved the space capsule after splashdown, etc.

All eyes were on the same ‘brass ring’: successfully landing a man on the moon. And bringing him home.

July 20, 1969

We did it. Beginning with a single small step.

You may not be headed to Tranquility Base. Or Fra Mauro. But what “small step” can you take today toward your ‘brass ring’? Maybe it’s:

  • Finding a new trail
  • Exploring a new park, beach, mountain, canyon, or desert
  • Losing weight
  • Getting more exercise
  • Eating healthier
  • Spending more time with family
  • Learning a new skill or hobby
  • Reaching out to a lonely neighbor
  • Start writing a book
  • Finish writing a book
  • Saying “I’m sorry”
  • Trying a new recipe, author, composer, or hair style
  • Planning for retirement
  • Offering or receiving forgiveness
  • Taking the first step to mend a broken relationship

A big goal for me this summer is exceeding last year’s high water mark related to our library’s annual Summer Reading Program. I read 156 books last summer. I just finished book #113.

I’m on target to meet my goal. But I may need to hit the after-burners. One book – one page – one paragraph, sentence and small step – at a time.

One page at a time…

What’s today’s “small step” for you?

Image credit – Moon Landing. NASA. Public Domain.   This post also appears on my sister site, Hiker Babe.

The Magic Room

“I’ll be back soon” Mom chirps as she heads out the door. “Be good.”

No problemo, I bark, tail wagging. You know I’ll be here when you get back. Besides. When am I ever NOT good? (Well, there was that one unfortunate incident with The Powder Puff and a can of unsupervised red paint. Nobody’s perfect.)

Meantime, I’ll just stay here and guard the house. Say hello to the neighbors. Do my puppy eyes thing on the postal carrier (always good for a free treat). I will also protect my turf from stray felines, menacing deer and sketchy-looking plastic bags.

Now, let’s see. Where was I? Oh yeah. Mom and that magic room. The place she wanders off to with an armload of books to do that “reading” thing. It has her favorite reading chair. Lots of books. And a “Summer Reading Program.” Whatever that is.

Mom goes to this magic place a lot. Even when it’s not summer. But dogs aren’t allowed inside.

What’s up with that?

But Mom always seems to feel better when she’s been there. More settled. Or more susceptible to the puppy eyes thing.

It can go either way.

She talks about visiting “exotic places” like Rome. China. The South Pole. Hackensack, New Jersey. Or meeting dead-ish people like Laura Ingalls Wilder. Jane Austen. Mary Poppins, David Copperfield and Peter Pan. All without ever leaving that room. Or our zip code (got that from my favorite postal carrier).

Yes siree, Lassie! That book room thingy must have some special magic indeed!

Someone say, “Dinner”?

“Born Free”: Timeless and Transcendent After All These Years

Have you ever re-discovered a book from your childhood that still has the power to move and profoundly impact you, even a half century after your initial read? If so, then you’ve found a true classic.

Pinterest

Joy Adamson’s Born Free: A Lioness of Two Worlds is such a book.

Evocative and compelling, Born Free is the remarkable true story of Elsa, an orphaned lion cub raised by Joy Adamson and her husband, George. At its core, Born Free is a love story. With great sensitivity and precision, Adamson chronicles the mutual affection and bond between a magnificent lioness and the humans who loved her enough to release her to the Kenyan wilds where she was free born.

It’s probably the most moving and inspiring “animal story” I’ve ever read.

Joy Adamson wrote three books about African lions: Born Free, Living Free, and Forever Free. I read them all. Born Free is my favorite.

I first read Born Free in 1969, nine years after it was first published. I was in the fifth grade. Entranced, I read it over and over. There’s something timeless and transcendent about the story that’s difficult to put into words.

I lost track of Adamson and Elsa over the years. But I never forgot the extraordinary story of a free born lioness and the humans who loved her. I recently located a library copy of Born Free. Finally.

Elsa and “Born Free” author Joy Adamson.

Opening the Forward to the Fortieth Anniversary Edition (2000), I was startled to learn that Joy Adamson was stabbed to death by a disgruntled former employee in 1980. The news hit me like a ton of bricks. I felt like I’d lost a best friend I’d never met. So it was with a mixed sense of sadness and reverence that I sat in a sun-soaked living room in a far corner of the Olympic Peninsula nearly thirty years after that sad event and re-opened a book that profoundly impacted my life, especially with regard to animals.

Lavishly illustrated with black and white photographs, Elsa’s story is still an unforgettable one. So is Adamson’s prodigious writing talent. Her breezy, bucolic style recalls another formidable literary talent who writes so evocatively about her life in Kenya: Isak Dinesen. Like Dinesen, Adamson’s descriptions of her life as the wife of a senior game warden in East Africa have a luminous quality that is almost melodic.

My favorite photo from the book. Joy Adamson and Elsa.

I read Born Free cover to cover in one sitting. Here’s a key line, from page 109:

“Her (Elsa’s) good-natured temperament was certainly due in part to her character, but part too may have come from the fact that neither force nor frustration was ever used to adapt her to our way of life. For we tried by kindness alone to help her to overcome the differences that lie between our two worlds.”

The Adamsons and Elsa succeed beyond all expectations.

Re-reading the last chapter, The Final Test, the same intense sense of sadness and loss these pages evoked in me five decades ago bubbled up again from some deep internal well. It was as if Elsa and her human pride had never left, patiently waiting 50 years for my return to their story.

Recording Elsa’s success in finding her own wild pride and mate, Adamson writes:

“We returned to camp alone, and very sad. Should we leave her now, and so close a very important chapter of our lives?”

The Adamsons decide to wait “a few more days” to make sure Elsa has been accepted by the pride.

In the final elegiac paragraph, Adamson returns to her “studio” by the river to continue writing the story of Elsa, “who had been with us until this morning.” Sad to be alone, the author writes that she tries to make herself happy “by imagining that at this very moment Elsa was rubbing her soft skin against another lion’s skin and resting with him in the shade, as she had often rested here with me.”

I cried. Again.

And that, friends, is the mark of a true classic.

 

 

Elsa on Camp Bed Photo Credit

Anacondas & Oracles

“Where in the world is Anaconda, Montana?” Mom asks me, peering over her reading glasses.

Do I look like an oracle?

“Wait…” She starts tapping away on the hand-held shiny thingy. Mumbles something about “Googling.”

“Looks like it’s in southwest Montana. Kind of near Butte.”

I have no clue what that means. Do you? Well, Mom’s smiling. She must be pleased with herself. So I’m pleased, too. Can you see my tail wagging?

“What’s up with Anaconda and Montana?” you ask. Well, ya, see, Mom just finished a book she’s been looking to re-read for a long, long time. Not a single library in our entire state carried it. She had to order it through Inter-Library Loan.  I don’t what that means. Sounds like a hassle.

Anyway, her long-looked-for book finally showed up. From one of those book places in Anaconda, Montana. I still don’t know what that means. But Mom finished all 247 pages of that book in one day. So it must’ve been good.

What was it? Oh. You mean the title? Spencer’s Mountain. Published in 1961. By Earl Hamner, Jr. You know, The Waltons guy. Only in this book, it’s not Walton’s Mountain. It’s Spencer’s Mountain. The family patriarch is Clay Spencer. His oldest son is Clay-Boy. Not John. And not John Boy.

But Mom really loves this story about a large family growing up poor in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. They made a movie out of it in 1963. With somebody called Henry Fonda as Clay Spencer. And another someone called Maureen O’Hara as Olivia Spencer, the mom. Some guy name “James MacArthur” plays Clay Boy.

“The movie closely parallels the book,” observes Mom. Even including the Rockfish River, Hickory Creek, and Charlottesville. Of course, the names of all the children are different than in the TV Waltons. But that’s another story.

Speaking of stories, have you ordered your copy of Mom’s latest book? It’s a little bit like this Spencer thing: The Small Things: What ‘The Waltons’ Taught Me About Writing & More.

Find out more at Shushes, Small Things & Plain Vanilla.

Arf! Arf!

A ‘Champion for the Ages’

Reposting from 2018 in honor of Derby Day and the 145th Run for the Roses!

***

“Inevitable.” Isn’t that a great word? Learned it from Mom the other day. As in, the 144st annual Run for the Roses is coming up on May 5. So debates about who was the Greatest Thoroughbred of All Time are… inevitable.

Or so I’m told.

A few other things I learned:

The “Run for the Roses” is also known as The Kentucky Derby. The Derby is always run on the first Saturday in May. It’s the first jewel in the Triple Crown of Thoroughbred horse racing.

Why do I care about Thoroughbred racing? Well, I don’t. Not really. But Mom does!

She’s been reading a Walter Farley book about one of the greatest champions to ever set hooves on a race track: Man O’War. Along with legendary Triple Crown winner Secretariat, Man O’War is a top contender for Greatest Thoroughbred of All Time honors.

Back to the Farley book.

Man O’War’s remarkable life unfolds through the eyes of fictional stable boy Danny Ryan. Mom says the story is nearly as powerful and compelling as the great Thoroughbred himself. I’m not sure what the means. But it sounds good.

Here’s Mom’s review of Farley’s Man O’ War.

So when Kentucky Derby time rolls around each May, the comparisons between Man O’ War and another great champion, Triple Crown Winner (1973) Secretariat, are inevitable. At least according to Mom. Which horse gets the nod for Horse of the Century? Depends on who you ask. And what day it is.

Both possessed blinding speed. Both ran challengers off their feet. Both broke records. Both have great stories.

So whether your vote for The Greatest goes to Secretariat or Man O-War, a few things are for sure:

1) May is the perfect month for awesome horse stories!

2) Any story by Walter Farley is a great story. Inevitably.

3) Churchill Downs promises another great Run for the Roses this Saturday. (“Run for the noses”? I always kinda thought that was when Mom calls me in for dinner. But I may be wrong about that.)

4) One of the finest athletes to ever set hooves on a race track, Man O’War remains a Champion for the Ages. Just like Walter Farley.

Is it dinner time yet?

Update – May 5: Congratulations to the 2018 Kentucky Derby winner, Justify!

Shushes, Small Things, & Plain Vanilla

Shhhh!

I’ve heard this a lot lately. Mom’s been working on a project. She calls it The Story. She’s spent like a million years at her keyboard working on it. Or maybe it’s only been 20 minutes?

Anyway, The Story is finally finished. Here it is! (Can I bark now? Like, real loud? Cuz this is like a big bark-worthy thing here, ya know?!)

Find out more at: The Small Things: What ‘The Waltons’ Taught Me About Writing & More.

Here’s one of my favorite parts. Near the end:

High above the river a bald eagle soars in slow circles. Dropping like a stone, the majestic raptor glides low over the water, talons out, and spears a fish. Great wings beating, he climbs to the nearest conifer to tear and eat. Northwest clouds cough out a cold chorus as sable night seeps over the Olympic Mountains.

Night rings down the curtain on day. Ideas roll around in my head like lost pennies. Small things like eucalyptus trees. A Michigan dairy farm. Guitar lessons. A first love. Girl’s chorus and my first creative writing teacher. Lunches and lagoons. Summer adventures and sheer stupidity. Time is like a penny. Life stories that don’t always go the way we planned. Clark Park, to which I’ve never returned….

… Peering out the window at a rising moon, I give thanks for family, friends, and a roof over my head. I recall A.J. Covington’s advice to a fledgling Walton writer and pad back to my keyboard. I can’t help but smile. You were right, Doc. You were right, indeed.

Mom says, “Sometimes even ‘plain vanilla’ has flavor.”

You’ll get that if you get The Story. Woof!

My Favorite Holiday!

Humans finally came up with a holiday I can sink my teeth into, so to speak. I mean, bark. Did you know that today is National Love Your Pet Day?

I mean, hey. After all the endless hours I spend guarding, playing with, walking, protecting, supervising and watching my humans and all the weird stuff they do (“Teeth brushing”? What’s up with that?), isn’t it about time I get some extra recognition?

You gonna eat that?

So today Mom’s making my favorite homemade treats. Come on, beef burgers!

We’re going to play chase the breakers at the beach and throw the ball and frisbee, too! Unless it’s snowing. Or pouring rain. Then we’ll just play in the weather!

Alright, who hid the ball?

Afterwards, I’ll curl up on my soft, fuzzy doggie blanket near the heating vent, all nice and cozy. Or even better: I’ll hijack and hog Mom’s blanket. If she’ll let me hop onto the recliner. Since it’s National Love Your Pet Day, that’s a pretty sure bet. Or I can always deploy my patented, never-fail, 100% guaranteed Adorable Puppy Eyes.

Not even Mom can resist that.

Is this place great, or what?

Check out my snazzy HUNTER ORANGE coat! It’s even waterproof!

How are you loving your four-legged buddy today?

Book Brontosaurus, Mobile Devices, and Pizza

View from Fremont TrailI had to laugh. Not because the situation was funny, but because there wasn’t much else to do.

Yours truly exercised executive privilege the other day and took the kiddos swimming at the local YMCA. Along with half the population of the Free World.

It seemed like a good idea at the time: a warm, blue, postcard-perfect summer day. An open afternoon. A recently renewed Y membership. A heated indoor pool. Almost-clean towels. (Nobody’s perfect.)

Continue reading

Book Tag!

I’m a tag expert. Get the ball? I’m on it! Fetch the stick! It’s mine! Grab the Frisbee? Oh yeah! So Mom says we’re getting the tail wagging for 2019 with a New Year’s Book Tag.

Ready to play? Aw, come on! It’ll be fun! Let’s jump on it! Ready? Set? Let’s go:

How Many Books Will You Read This Year?

Mom’s Goodreads goal was 365 books for 2018. She finished with 383. Can we get back to you on this year?

What are five books you didn’t get to in 2018 but will make a priority for 2019?

Hmmmm… Maybe Stephanie Garber’s Caraval series and Neal Shusterman’s Scythe series. You?

What genre do you want to read more of?

Creative non-fiction narrative. It’s non-fiction that reads like fiction, with a compelling plot. Mom wants to read more about Czar Nicholas II. I’m holding out for more Rin Tin Tin. Go figure.

Three non-bookish goals for 2019?

  • Mom: Walk 10 – 15 miles a week. Me: Walk 100 miles a week. (We may have to negotiate.)
  • Mom: Learn how to make tiramisu
  • “Teach the dog to let go of the ball” (What’s up with that?)

A book you’ve had forever that you still need to read?

Mom reads fast. I mean, Like. The. Wind. She also has a pretty good handle on what she is and isn’t interested in. So she doesn’t have much to say about this category. Other than she wants to finish the sequels to The Darkest Minds. You?

What word will define your 2019?

Just one? Are you kidding me?! Well, okay. If you insist. How ‘bout squirrel? No? Would you settle for pizza? (I like Hawaiian. Just sayin’.)

Now it’s your turn. Ready to do this? Consider yourself tagged.