This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Wednesday, February 17, 1999

February 27, 1999 - Isabella Bird

Isabella Lucy Bird is one of the striking characters of Colorado history. One hundred and twenty-five years years ago, this remarkable Englishwomen climbed Long's Peak.

Isabella recorded her journey in letters back to her ill sister. These letters were later published (1879) as A Lady's Life in the Rocky Mountains.

Earl Murray, a novelist raised in Montana but now living in Fort Collins, said in an interview, "Late one afternoon, while riding the shuttle back to my home from the airport, I had a discussion with a woman who had read Isabella Bird's book ... She pointed out the window to Long's Peak, rising high in the distance, and told me that Miss Bird had climbed that mountain and had fallen in love with an outlaw named Rocky Mountain Jim. I thought to myself that there could be no better story than that."

Murray's latest novel, In the Arms of the Sky, proves the point.

Rocky Mountain Jim Nugent actually existed, and much as Isabella described him. Half of his face and one eye had been ripped off -- the result of an encounter with a grizzly. Yet despite his ruined visage and a history of violence, Nugent had the soul of a poet. Nugent and Isabella fell in love.

Nugent was locked in a fierce struggle with Lord Dunraven, a wealthy British sportsman determined to buy Estes Park and turn it into a a private hunting reserve. This feud, as well as Isabella's connection to family back in England, did not augur well for the romantic relationship between the mountain man and the Victorian Englishwoman.

When asked, "What intrigued you about Isabella Bird?" Murray replied, "I saw her as a woman well ahead of her time, independent and unafraid of what others might think. I believe she was also a risk-taker, as traveling alone in the American West of 1873 was a strong test for anyone."

On March 8, In the Arms of the Sky, by Earl Murray, will be the book considered by the Senior Book Discussion Group in Castle Rock. The time is 1 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. The place is the Philip S. Miller Library. The author will be present.

Earl Murray has written over thirty novels dealing with the West. His novel of Wounded Knee, Song of Wovoka (1992) was a finalist for Best Historical Novel in the Western Writers of America annual Spur awards competition. Murray has also worked as a botanist and rangeland conservationist. He has even participated in two Sun Dances and numerous bundle and sweat lodge ceremonies.

Of course, you could simply read his book yourself. But something special happens in a book discussion group.

Rachel Jacobsohn, author of The Reading Group Handbook, estimates that the number of reading groups has doubled in four years, in part because of Oprah Winfrey. Jacobsohn suspects that there are now a million book groups in America. Most of our libraries sponsor at least one, and new ones are popping up all the time. Some are sponsored by churches, others by local book stores. Ask around.

What's the appeal of book discussion groups? In part, it's the search for community. Some reading groups embrace decades of change in the lives of its members.

In part, reading groups are a stimulus to set aside time to think about something other than the details of your life. And if you're going to think about the details of somebody else's life, Isabella Bird is an inspiring choice.

No comments:

Post a Comment