Monday, March 21, 2022

Tales of Two...

Auckland Islands, Looking towards New Zealand
Cape Lovitt by Lawrie Mead (LawrieM) & Tony Nicklin. This image is in the Public Domain.

Joan Druett in Island of the Lost [here] brings to life the character of people who, sailing into forbidding seas, were shipwrecked on a remote island 285 miles to the south of New Zealand. She recounts how two groups deal with deprivation at the "edge of the world" in the year 1864as current today as then. 

The tales reveal the best and most base in humanitystarkly contrasting adaptability and rigidity in the respective leaders of the groups. One group showed courage in selfless acts too many to know, a flexibility in fighting overwhelming forces, and a determination to survivequalities largely lacking in the second group.

Part history and part immersion in human nature, the author finds her stride early to bring to life the events and voices of the individuals, through her carefully creative interpretation of journals and other research. She relates the true tales of two groups, who were castaway and unaware of each other's existence, at different ends of the same island. Each took a different approach to making decisions and to finding shelter or foodwith consequently different outcomes. 

Powerful recreations of ships, sea, storms, islands, vegetation, sea lions, bird-life, and other creatures are described in graphic detail, along with the cruelty needed to survive. Druett melds seamlessly the records of events within descriptions of the island setting, to illustrate how the castaways cope, insightfully sharing the thoughts and actions of people facing extreme challenges to their lives. 

The smaller group of castaways celebrate human savvy in undertaking hard efforts, using limited tools retrieved from their shipwreckforaging for food, building shelter, and sustaining spirits. As leader of this group, Captain Musgrave provides encouragement, requiring times of relaxation as needed. He seems as a leader to appreciate when to lean in with guidance and when to cheer initiative. For 18-months, Captain Musgrave and his group withstood the isolation and deprivation through adaptation, ingenuity, and cooperative efforts. 

A larger group of castaways, who were shipwrecked four months after Musgrave's group, fared much less well. Their tale, as one reviewer remarked, was in some ways like an adult version of Lord of the Flies. From their shipwreck at the foot of cliffs through later events, this group's lethargic treks and decisions too late or not at all accumulate failure after failure in taking the actions needed for survival. With the low energy and inflexibility of this second group and its official leader, you can broadly predict why their tale would be so differentwith just one seaman having the resourcefulness needed to face such dire circumstances. 

The detail of the narration is engaging. The book also describes norms of master-servant relations of the time, notes the behaviors of government officials, and chronicles some subsequent history of this "graveyard for ships." Lessons emerge naturally from the recreation of a distant time, in a far-away place, through deftly reimagined conversations and events that are freshly relevant today. 

When the world waits and watches from elsewhere, tales of survival offer possibility for hope. But they also highlight the limits to being able to survive alone. 

Saturday, March 5, 2022


by Preston Keres/US Dept of Agriculture. This image is in the Public Domain {{PD-USGov}}

George Orwell concluded his Homage to Catalonia with a reflection on his return to England, "earthquakes in Japan, famines in China, revolutions in Mexico... [the people] ...all sleeping the deep, deep sleep of England… [will be] …jerked out of it by the roar of bombs."

This was 1937, when Orwell returned from a harrowing time as a volunteer in the fight against real fascists, during the Spanish War. Although it's not possible now to know just how, greater efforts at that time to weaken or defeat the fascists could have seen the events from 1939 onwards unfold very differently.

It was not only England that was sleeping. Throughout a world still slowly recovering from a Great Depression, in rural areas, cities, and towns, people on farms and in offices and factories sought peace of mind for a better lifewhile leaders of the Axis Powers secretly made massive preparations for conquest. 

Their first forays with bombs and troops were to take control of countries as staging areas for further conquest. 

The world waited and watched from elsewhere, until the disparate and distracting debates, increasingly influenced by members of the Fifth Column telling smart-sounding lies, could no longer shield elected representatives from duty to protect homelands. Compelled by overwhelming circumstances, people worldwide progressively woke from sleep to harrowing years of action.

Foremost among what was different then was that Hitler from very early so completely lied about his intentions.