[extropy-chat] Another YA Book Recommendation

Amara Graps amara at amara.com
Fri Dec 29 14:55:29 UTC 2006

My Favorite Young Adult Book Recommendation:
Paddling my own canoe by Audrey Sutherland

My holidays changed to be psychologically much richer than what I
planned a couple weeks ago when I told my friends, "this year I must
stay home and work on proposals". Instead, due to an unfortunate
series of events on my friend's side, my holidays were spent with
one of the most 'can-do' humans I know. Spending those days talking
and walking and sharing (and helping when he'd let me) such a person
was a knock-on-the-head to what humans can do when their life
philosophy is "No Limits".  Therefore, I'd like to follow up
Giulio's book suggestion for teens and girls with another book
suggestion of my own that encapsulates a "No Limits" philosophy.
Teen years are often an angst-ridden time when the young person
flounders and flails and despair that they 'cannot do anything'.
But, Au contraire! You CAN.

The book: <a href="http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0824806999/">
Paddling my Own Canoe</a> is about a woman, the author Audrey
Sutherland, who has a goal reach a a particular inaccessible beach
on the island of Moloka'i in Hawai'i. Because of the cliffed terrain
surrounding that particular beach, the only access point is by sea,
which is the Moloka'i Channel, one of the most dangerous stretches
of water in the Pacific Ocean due, to its strong undercurrents.

Starting her successful trials in 1958, she spent some days to a
week every year improving her methods of travel to that beach, first
swimming from one ocean-entry point on the island (after being
dropped there by plane), and dragging her survival gear in
waterproof containers that she built, and later by building small
rafts/canoes and paddling there (hence the name of the book). As the
years passed, and she became more skilled, she eventually upgraded
her goal to build a small house on that beach, completing that
task, as well.

This 130 page monologue lets you listen while she talks to herself,
trying to understand what went wrong on a particular action and how
she might fix the problem so the action will go better next time.
You hear how she breaks down a large task into many manageable pieces
and then tries and tests each of those pieces until she reaches
success. You are with her when she is planning, trying, thinking,
researching, and forever improving how to do something. This is a
book that, not only shows how to solve big problems by breaking them
down into manageable pieces, but demonstrates thinking for oneself
and how to live with grace and humor and courage and diligence. For
example: much of her equipment she built or devised on her own
because there didn't exist the kind of expedition equipment
(lightweight, sturdy, waterproof) that she needed at the time in the
1950s and 1960s. She is also very modest, often chiding herself, and
she has a wonderfully funny sense of humor.

Some quotes from the book:

"I peeled down to the high-topped tennis shoes and clumped off to
the river with the dirty dishes. Alone and content among the trees
at the water's edge, I stood like Daphne, bewitched there in the
forest. Daphne, ha! Where's Apollo, you dirty, salty female? I knelt
by the pool and scrubbed, composing a derisive haiku, as did Basho
and Issa in Japan long ago.

Goddess by the stream
Tall, bare, proud ... laughs at dreams, and
Squats to wash the pots. "


"What I really need is for some scientist to develop a dehydrated or
freeze-dried wine. Please forgive such sacrilege, Monsieur Lichine
and Mr. Balzer and you other connoisseurs, but I do enjoy wine with
my meals, and seven half-bottles, a week's supply, weigh ten
pack-sagging pounds. Table wines are twelve percent alcohol and
perhaps two percent grape residue. Perfect a dehydration method and
I could carry a fifth of that lovely wine, Louis Martini's Moscato
Amabile, in a container holding four ounces. Develop further;
freeze-dry the alchohol. Then I could buy foil packets of a powdered
Beaulieu Cabernet Sauvignon, or, for Franco-oenophiles, a Chateau
LaMission Haut Brion, add water, display the packet label with a
flourish, and pour with a drip-stopping wrist twist- into a Sierra
Club cup. "But listen, Aud", say my scientific friends. "If you
really want concentrated wine, it's already been done. It's called
brandy."  "


"I had to go back again. To be that terrified of anything, that
incompetent, survive by that small a margin - I'd better analyze,
practice,then return and do it right. "

and (my favorite quote of the book):

"And why did I always come alone to Moloka'i? I know why, but the
telling is hard. Daily we are on trial, to do a job, to make a
marriage good, to find depth, serenity, and meaning in a complex,
deterioating world of politics, false values, and trivia. But rarely
are we deeply challenged physically or alone. We rely on friends, on
family, on a committee, on community agencies outside ourselves. To
have actual survival, living or dying, depends on our own ingenuity,
skill, or stamina- this is a core question we seldom face. We rarely
find out if we like having only our own mind as company for days or
weeks at a time. How many people have ever been total isolated, ten
miles from the nearest other human, for even two days?

Alone, you are more aware of surroundings, wary as an animal to
danger, limp and relaxed when the sun, the brown earth, or the deep
grass say, "Rest now." Alone you stand at night, alert, poised,
hearing through ears and open mouth and fingertips. Alone, you do
not worry whether someone else is tired or hungry or needing. You
push yourself hard or quit for the day, reveling in the luxury of
solitude. And being unconcerned with human needs, you become as a
fish, a boulder, a tree- a part of the world around you.

I stood once in midstream, balanced on a rock. A scarlet leaf
fluttered, spiraled down. I watched it, became a wind-blown leaf,
swayed, fell into the water with a giant human splash, then soddenly
crawled out, laughing uproariously.

The process of daily living is often intense and whimsical. The joy
of it, and the compassion, we can share, but in pain we are
ultimately alone. The only real antidote is inside. The only real
security is not insurance or money or a job, not a house and
furniture paid for, or a retirement fund, and never is it another
person. It is the skill and humor and courage within, the ability to
build your own fires and find your own peace.

On a solo trip you may discover these, or try to build them, and
life becomes simple and deeply satisfying. The confidence and
strength remain and are brought back and applied to the rest of your


Amara Graps, PhD      www.amara.com
Istituto di Fisica dello Spazio Interplanetario (IFSI), Roma, ITALIA
Associate Research Scientist, Planetary Science Institute (PSI), Tucson

More information about the extropy-chat mailing list