Of Men and Mountains
Of Men and Mountains, by William O. Douglas, xiv + 338 pages, with drawings by Mary B. Watkins. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1950. Price, $4.00.
There can be few of us who did not read with concern, last October, that William O. Douglas had emerged from an accident in the Cascades with practically all his ribs broken. A horse rolled on him. It is good to have seen a news picture of him, in March 1950, donning again his robes as Associate Justice of the Supreme Court. It is good also to see Of Men and Mountains, the completion of which, one surmises, must have been accomplished during the months of recuperation. “These pages,” the author explains in a foreword, “contain what I, as a boy, saw, felt, smelled, tasted, and heard in the mountains of the Pacific Northwest.” He stands revealed, man and boy, as a meditative sportsman, permanently in love with the out-of- doors and prepared to acknowledge freely the spiritual rewards to be found in high places.
The book is hardly for readers who look only for recitals of conquests above the timberline. For much of the time, Mr. Justice Douglas is chatting reminiscently about other phases of a mountain life. All sorts of things enter in—Indian legend, the history of Yakima, squaw grass and snowbush, salmon and bass, Barney Mc- Phillips’ recipe for sourdough and Izaak Walton’s for trout, the cougar screeching in the darkness beyond the campfire. In the pleasant gallery of good friends, Billy McGuffie, a Scottish sheep- herder, leaves an especially solid impression. Concerning the author himself, the most striking revelation, I think, is that he overcame both utter panic in the water and the effects of infantile paralysis.
Climbing figures extensively only in the last two chapters. Readers of Life will no doubt regret that there was no room in this book for an account of the mountains of southwest Iran: “a certain Douglas” (as he was described by the Russian radio) made a partial ascent in 1949 of a 12,500-foot mountain in the territory of the
Bakhtiari.* We hear instead how the author climbed Mount Adams in 1945, and how in 1948 he went back to Kloochman Rock, on the southern side of the Tieton Basin, and remembered the harrowing experience he had there in 1913. His thoughts on these occasions were of freedom, the spirit of adventure, and faith in God. “One cannot reach the desolate crags that look down on eternal glaciers,” he writes, “without deep and strange spiritual experiences.” The mountains, he believes, breed a spirit that can be of utmost value to the nation.