“The Adventure Stories”
By T. Dietz & Brian K. Brecht
There is a very direct correlation to the books I had access to as a kid and young adult , and how they fueled the vast majority of my adventure seeking behaviors, hobbies, and my career.
“Wild Life in South Africa”
The very first book that I remember vividly, and still have today (it actually sits on my desk), is “Wild Life in South Africa” by J. Stevenson-Hamilton who at one time carried the title Late Warden, Kruger National Park. The book was first published in 1947 with a second edition in 1950. An illustrated edition followed in 1954, which is the one I possess. It’s worth a few words how I ended up with this book. My mother was an immigrant to the US from Switzerland in the late 1950’s. As a first job she worked for a wonderful family physician, Dr. L Berg. He was a staple in my life for my early years and new of my enthusiasm for collecting insects. I was a born naturalist, enthralled by all sorts of animals. But all I could talk about was Africa, that very mysterious place with incredible animal life. I couldn’t have been more than 8 or 9 when he presented me with his own copy, a gift given to him by who I don’t know in, 1957. I have read this book dozens of times. It is not an adventure in some sense, but for me it was an example of an adventurous life.
Stevenson-Hamilton had published his first version of the book in 1917 when he was the first Park Ranger of South Africa’s main wild life sanctuary, Kruger National Park. It is a factual book about the ecology of Kruger, the natural history of its animals, man’s influence over them, and man’s fortitude to protect them. The book has wonderful maps, photo plates, and descriptions. From when I first read this book to the many times since, I can see Stevenson-Hamilton out in the Park, noting his observations, making sure he is not in peril from predators, and camping in the open bush. The book fueled a lifetime desire to go to Kruger and that dream finally came true in 2009 – several of the stories from that trip will be forthcoming.
“The Silent World” & “The Living Sea”
The influence on me from these books can be seen in both an early career in Science, my tenure at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, SCUBA diving, and exploration. Cousteau’s undersea adventures are legendary and his respect for the sea extraordinary. I’ll look to write up some of my own underwater adventures as I’ve already touched on some on sea adventures with my GAC write up “Diablos Rojos”.
“Endurance – Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage”
Now Brian has his Shackleton voyage book and I have mine, “Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage”, by Alfred Lansing, 1959. This is another book whose pages are well worn from its many years in my active library.
As Brian talks about, Shackleton’s ill-fated trip resulted in one of the greatest known feats of navigation and survival. Antarctic exploration has always fascinated me and like other adventurous places, it’s been on my list. I came close once.
While at the Scripps, a team of us made a request of the National Science Foundation to fund an Antarctic expedition to further my molecular research on animal adaptation to stressful and unusual environments. Unfortunately, Federal funding for this type of trip was waning and the wait seemed too long. In the end, we settled for a warm water collecting adventure in Baja California.
“The Right Stuff”
There are many more books by the likes of Hemingway, Roosevelt, Carter, Hillary, Scott etc, that have kindled and kept the thirst for adventure and exploration alive for me, but I will mention one last one, “The Right Stuff” by Tom Wolfe, 1979.
Now this book really came after having already gotten the space exploration bug, as many of my generation had watching the Apollo program, especially Apollo 11.
As like most kids, becoming an astronaut and space explorer was high on my list, and lasted considerably longer than most, as my last application to NASA’s astronaut program was when I turned 46 – a glutton for rejection.
Many of my passions like diving, flying, science etc, had the dual purpose of filling its own desire, but were also pursued to give me the skill sets necessary to become a space explorer. Although that long chapter has many interesting stories, its now closed, but the journey to achieve it has brought incredible adventures.