Posted November 17, 2008
A stubborn band of optimists who fought and refused to let the magnificent American chestnut tree slip into extinction. One man's life-long obsession with hiking the hidden-away corners of the Grand Canyon. A young mother rebuilding her life after the death of her husband in a mountaineering accident.
These are some of the themes found among the winners of the 2008 National Outdoor Book Awards.
“What a year it was,” said Ron Watters, professor emeritus at Idaho State University. “The writing in the outdoor field has always been good, but it just keeps getting better — and this year it was outstanding.”
Watters is the chairman of the National Outdoor Book Awards, a nonprofit program sponsored by the NOBA Foundation, Idaho State University and the Association of Outdoor Recreation and Education.
As an example of outstanding writing, Watters points to the winner of the Natural History category, “American Chestnut: The Life, Death, and Rebirth of a Perfect Tree.” Authored by nature writer Susan Freinkel, it tells the story of the American chestnut tree which at one time stretched in vast numbers from Georgia to Maine.
The American chestnut tree had long been a part of the landscape of the eastern United States, but in a short 40-year time span, an estimated 4 billion trees were killed off by an imported blight fungus. Only a handful of trees remained in California and the Pacific Northwest. In an absorbing mix of natural and human history, Freinkel chronicles the century-long struggle by a few individuals who set out to save this American cultural icon.
A beautifully composed memoir won the Outdoor Literature category. Written by Jennifer Lowe-Anker, “Forget Me Not: A Memoir” tells of the struggle to rebuild her life after her husband and famous mountaineer, Alex Lowe dies on an expedition in the Himalayas. Remarkably candid, it's a story of adventure, passion, and hope reborn.
The History-Biography Category has two winners. One is a new, exhaustively researched but eminently readable “Fallen Giants: A History of Himalayan Mountaineering” by Maurice Isserman and Stewart Weaver.
The other is entitled “Grand Obsession.” Written by Elias Butler and Tom Myers, it is the biography of Harvey Butchart, an author of Grand Canyon hiking guidebooks. Butler and Myers do wonders with this book, taking what seems at first glance a prosaic subject, and fashioning it into a fascinating portrait of a man hopelessly addicted to a place.
Complete reviews of these and the other 2008 winners may be found at National Outdoor Book Award Web site at: www.noba-web.org.
Here is a list of winners.
• Natural History Literature. Winner. “The American Chestnut: The Life, Death, and Rebirth of a Perfect Tree.” By Susan Freinkel. University of California Press, Berkeley. ISBN 9780520247307
• Outdoor Literature Category. Winner. “Forget Me Not: A Memoir.” By Jennifer Lowe-Anker. The Mountaineers Books, Seattle. ISBN 1594850828.
• History/Biography Category. Winner. “Grand Obsession: Harvey Butchart and the Exploration of the Grand Canyon.” By Elias Butler and Tom Myers. Puma Press, Flagstaff, Ariz. ISBN 0970097344.
• History/Biography Category. Winner. “Fallen Giants: A History of Himalayan Mountaineering from the Age of Empire to the Age of Extremes.” By Maurice Isserman and Stewart Weaver. Yale University Press. New Haven, Conn. ISBN 9780300115017.
• Classic Category. Winner. “Through the Grand Canyon from Wyoming to Mexico.” By Ellsworth L. Kolb. Grand Canyon Association, Grand Canyon, Ariz. (Originally published by MacMillan in 1914). ISBN 0938216961
• Classic Category. Winner. The “Pacific Crest Trail” (Series). In three volumes: Southern California, Northern California and Oregon &Washington. Authors include Thomas Winnett, Ben Schifrin, Jeffrey Schaffer, Ruby Johnson Jenkins, and Andy Selters. Wilderness Press, Berkeley. ISBN's: 9780899973166, 9870899973173, 9780899973753.
• Children's Category. Winner. “The Pole.” By Eric Walters. Puffin Canada/Penguin Group, Toronto. ISBN 9780143167914.
• Nature and the Environment. Winner. “The Last Polar Bear: Facing the Truth of a Warming World.” Photographs by Steven Kazlowski. Braided River Books, an imprint of The Mountaineers Books, Seattle. ISBN 9781594850592.
• Nature and the Environment. Winner. “The Great Lakes: The Natural History of a Changing Region.” By Wayne Grady. Greystone Books, Vancouver. ISBN 9781553651970.
• Design and Artistic Merit. Winner. “Surfboards” by Guy Motil. Falcon Guides, Guilford, Conn. ISBN 9780762746217.
• Design and Artistic Merit. Winner. “Bruce Aiken's Grand Canyon: An Intimate Affair.” Paintings by Bruce Aiken. Text by Susan Hallsten McGarry. Grand Canyon Association, Grand Canyon, Ariz. ISBN 9780938216933
• Design and Artistic Merit. Honorable Mention. “Soul of the Heights: 50 Years Going to the Mountains.” Photographs and text by Ed Cooper. Falcon Guides, Guilford, Conn. ISBN 9780762745272
• Nature Guidebooks. Winner. “Birds of Peru.” By Tomas S. Schulenberg, Douglas F. Stotz, Daniel F. Lane, John P. O'Neill, and Theodore A. Parker III. Princeton University Press, Princeton, N.J. ISBN 9780691049151.
• Adventure Guidebook. Winner. “Florida Keys Paddling Atlas.” By Bill and Mary Burnham. Falcon Guides, Guilford, Conn. ISBN 9780762738571.
• Instructional Category. Winner. “Road Bike Maintenance.” By Guy Andrews. Falcon Guides, Guilford, Conn. ISBN 9780762747467.
• Instructional Category. Honorable Mention. “Whitewater Kayaking: The Ultimate Guide.” By Ken Whiting and Kevin Varette. Heliconia Press. Beachburg, Ontario. ISBN 9781896980300.
More information on the awards program is found on the National Outdoor Book Award website at www.noba-web.org.