Saturday, August 31, 2013

Summer Reading: The Snow Leopard

The Snow Leopard is a book about how the author Peter Matthiessen does not see a snow leopard. Yep, you read that right. His traveling companion, zoologist George Schaller, was luckier and did see one near the end of their stay in a remote region of Western Nepal. 

The purpose of their expedition was to study the rare Himalayan blue sheep or more specifically the mating habits of the blue sheep (and they are a little kinky if you ask me) in order to determine if the blue sheep are more closely related to sheep or goats (spoiler alert: they are closer to goats). 

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

The book is predominantly a travel diary, but a travel diary of the highest calibre since this is a remote and fascinating part of the world and Mattiessen is no ordinary story-teller. He has a wonderful ability to capture the essence of the changing rugged landscape, the animals and birds, the local people he meets, the villages he travels through, and life as it unfolds. Matthiessen has a great way with words and really makes the trip come to life.  

While The Snow Leopard is largely a travel diary, it is also about Matthiessen himself. The trek for Mattiessen is not only to accompany his friend Schaller in studying the blue sheep, but also is a time for him to ponder the recent death of his wife and reflect on their years together and a spiritual quest for him to gain knowledge about Buddhism. The Buddhism sections were complicated and detailed and dealt with many ideas and names I didn't know anything about. Even without being able to absorb the details from these pages, I still found the book an excellent read.

Matthiesen is a tough fellow for taking part in such an adventure. Thankfully, although the trek is long and difficult and dangerous, Matthiessen isn't a whiner. He was only eight years younger than I am now when he did the trek and it was done under very difficult conditions (there was a prolonged monsoon season that year as well as early snows and he had hiking boots didn't fit well and a tent that leaked).  

I doubt I will ever get to such a remote area of the world, but I sure enjoyed reading about it. The Snow Leopard book was written back in 1978 and likely much has changed since then. George Schaller recommended the area become a National Park to protect the wildlife and that indeed has happened. 

Do you like reading travel books?  Personally, I love them so I was pretty sure I would enjoy The Snow Leopard.  It is a classic travel expedition book and one that I would definitely recommend if you like the genre.

1 comment:

  1. This sounds fascinating! I love travel journals especially if it depicts a journey I'd never take in a million years.

    The snow leopard is such a gorgeous animal. Wow. Can it only be found in the Himalayas?

    I also think it's interesting to read about others' quests for spiritual enlightenment even if they're pursuing a different faith from my own.

    What a neat selection, Grace!


    PS Forgive my tardiness....we had no Internet access for the holiday weekend (Labor Day weekend here in the states).