Mountains have been everything to people at one time or another—wild and terrifying, comfort and sanctuary— but it is in their transcendence "from our normal modes of being" that McNamee (Blue Mountains Far Away, etc.) chose the material in this broad and powerful collection.
McNamee has divided these essays, poems, songs, myths, and tales up by continent. Each contribution addresses some experience with mountains. Certainly there is a wide sampling of dead white males here, but there is also a sizeable contingent of women writers (Freda du Faur, Mary Austin, Isabella Tree), and McNamee has scoured the available literature to insure that native peoples are represented with telling source material. Ancient Celtic chants to protect highland herds, southern Paiute songs ("The rocks are ringing. They are ringing in the mountains"), and Sikkimese hymns are a welcome counterbalance to the glibness of Mark Twain in the Himalayas: "You can see where the boundaries of three countries come together, some thirty miles away; Thibet is one of them, Nepaul another, and I think Herzegovina was the other." The quality of the contemporary writing is terrific, including Bob Shacochis's purgative ascent of Anatolia's Mount Ararat and the understated recounting of the eruption of an Icelandic volcano by the Lutheran minister of Sandfell, Jon Thorlaksson: "As I stood at the altar, I was sensible of a gentle concussion under my feet." Other pieces describe Henry David Thoreau having his transcendental circuits baked on Mt. Katahdin, Bulgarian folktales (on why all wise men come from Khorosan), and fabulous creation stories from the !Kung, Xan, and Ashanti.
Extensive and provocative: This collection will fire in readers the need to head for the hills in all weathers. (20 b&w line drawings, not seen)