Friday, January 22, 2010

Review: Nearer My Dog to Thee by Graham Mackintosh

A delightful book about a man, his dog, a summer camping in the Sierra San Pedro Martir, nature, and the history of Baja California, this is hard to define because it is so comprehensive and wonderful. Mackintosh, who has written other travel narratives about walking around Baja California decided that he wanted to try something different. He wanted to spend a summer camping in the one of Mexico's most unspoiled and remote National Parks, examining the area minutely. His companion throughout this sojourn is not his wife but a medium-sized dog he adopts from just south of the US border and christens Pedro.

As the summer starts, he and Pedro learn each other and the gorgeous area in which they've set up camp. They go on hikes together, appreciating the natural beauty of the place. Mackintosh is a lovely nature writer, devoting chapters to fungus and trees and other wonders of this unique eco-system. But his narrative never gets weighted down by so many details that the non-expert would be bored. And he peppers his story with descriptions of the people and animals he meets around the park, from the rangers to hikers, from other pets to the cattle who calmly wander into his camp.

The book is crammed with general information on the nature of the area but also with good, detailed history of the discovery of the place and the missionaries who first explored it with the help of the native people. Mackintosh recounts his own experiences with gentle humor and a lovely perspective. He talks of his reluctance to eat some of the wild-foraged fungus his wife has collected, being overly cautious of poisonous mushrooms, despite her willingness to eat her finds. He pokes fun at himself for his fear of the thunderstorms that terrify him in his small canvas tent, all the while retaining a healthy respect for the overwhelming power of the storms. He writes lovingly of Pedro and Penny, another of his dogs who joins he and Pedro part way through his four months, of their companionship and the sheer joy of being with his four-footed friends.

He hikes, he explores, and he recounts it all for the armchair traveler in such a way that four months without a car on a remote mountaintop in Mexico sounds like bliss. His writing is accessible and charming. He urges the importance of conservation and of the plight of stray dogs without ever coming off as preachy. The final chapters of the book, where he hears about the attacks of September 11 over his small radio are as political as he gets and lead to a musing about mortality, something that threads through the whole of his narrative in smaller ways anyway. Something special anyway, I freely admit I was tickled to know that the book was written at a cabin not far from our cottage, a world away from Baja California. If you enjoy unique ecosystems, history, travelogues, and dog books, be sure to give this one a gander. It has a lot to offer.

1 comment:

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