STOCKING STUFFERS FOR 2015
The holidays are almost upon us and many face the same predicament that I usually encounter; what to get that special person that will really make an
As stated many times in these blogs, my life and career is one of books. So, I’ve got two great reads, page-turners both, that should entertain that
special someone for a few weeks or more. Both are true stories and both occur in opposite extremes of the planet Earth.
My first choice for a “can’t put it down” is a book titled Arctic Homestead by Norma Cobb. This is the unbelievable story of the LAST homesteaders
in Alaska in the early 1970s. And because of a complete mishandling of paperwork Norma Cobb becomes the signatory making her the last woman to be awarded a
homestead by the federal government.
It is quite difficult to envision what Alaska was like in the 1970s. For the most part, it was still very rough going; not only the environment, but also
the people who lived there. As a pretty young coed once told me: “the odds are good, but the goods are odd.”
Coupled with this was the failure rate of homesteaders. Only2 in every 100 made it, the rest failed miserably and some actually perished. One thing is for
certain Norma Cobb and her husband Les are two of the toughest and resolute characters you will ever read about. Throw into the mix 5 children and you have
an incredible story. And to keep you interested in this tale I’m going to relate some episodes that will make you shake your head.
As Les and his 11year old son were passing by a neighbors when the dad decides to stop and help the fellow fix his truck. Since it was only .5 miles back
to the cabin, he told the youngster to walk it alone. As the short journey began the lad notices that something is paralleling him to his right. Keeping an
even pace, then slowing when he did, picking up the pace when he did, the “thing” was doing a great job of scaring the wits out of an 11 year old. Thinking
it was a bear the lad picks up the pace and then as he makes the turn in the road there before him is the putrid hairy creature. But it wasn’t a bear it
was the Bushman,; Sasquatch or Big Foot to most of us. The seven to eight foot creature just stared the boy down, then casually walked away and vanished
into the timbers. Running home now he hysterically recounts the episode only to be laughed and mocked by neighbors and family alike. But, the following
week, the neighbor who claimed the kid was smoking ‘wacky weed” comes face to face with the Bushman himself. No longer was this a fantasy. As a matter of
fact, this creature that would cause any crypto zoologist to salivate became a constant presence in their life.
One other encounter stands out well and points to the lawlessness of that time period. The town bully who has been badmouthing Les Cobb and his entire
family for several months finally comes face to face with the intrepid hero of this story. Realizing there was no way out of this, Les straps on his .44,
and like Gary Cooper walks down the street and when about twenty feet distant screams at the brute to “draw!” He says this several times and as the
townsfolk clear out, the bully comes to grips that if he draws he dies. So he runs for his life and is never heard from again.
I found myself unable to put this monograph down and I will tell you this; if you like action and if you like to see the grit and determination of a family
under tremendous stress and odds then this is the book for you.
My second “stuffer” takes place in Africa. Talk about extremes, as we live out the daily life of an African PH (not a professional hunter) but a
photographic hunter and unarmed at that!
The stories of Peter Allison are funny, scary and sometimes tragic. The old expression in Africa is: “if it runs, its food.” So his book, Whatever You Do Don’t Run is perfectly titled. The book is a series of short chapters that relate some aspect of being in the bush in Botswana and
once again let me state that the government forbids the carrying of firearms. Mr. Allison begins this adventure by admitting he is a prissy/sissy from
Australia who knew nothing of the wilds but thought he’d give it a go.
Too many stories to retell here but two stand out. The first is when he terribly misjudges the size of a python and to prove to his camp lackey that there
is nothing to be concerned about grabs it right behind the head and starts yanking. Horrible idea, the snake was over 10 feet long and massive. The lackey
just laughs and tells him what a fool he is. Meanwhile the big constrictor begins defecating all over our neophyte and it looks like he isn’t going to be
able to disengage. Screaming at his peon to run for help “Bale” casually saunters back to camp. With his hands turning white and barely able to keep the
monster from biting him on the face, help arrives in the nick of time.
The second episode is when Peter carelessly drives his 4-wheel drive into a creek that he thought was shallow. The waters are inhabited by nasty crocs and
other baddies of Africa. Just as he thinks he can make it over to the other side, and with a vehicle filled with tourists, the Rover sinks and stalls and
then truly dies. The murky water is now pouring into the cab and the coiffed customers are now all trying to get into the back seat. They sit terrified and
waiting for the radio to be put into play but it got wet and is now useless. Only one thing to do, Mr. Allison jumps into the water, swimming like crazy to
shore and then does the unthinkable—he RUNS for help. As he begins his “Pheidippidean marathon”, well you guessed it; he passes an unsettling number of
predators who begin looking at him a bit differently.
I’m not going to spoil this. So get the book and enjoy yourself!
Cobb, Norma, and Charles W. Sasser. Arctic Homestead : The True Story of One Family's Survival and Courage in the Alaskan Wilds. 1st ed. New York:
St. Martin's Press, 2000.
Allison, Peter. Whatever You Do, Don't Run : True Tales of a Botswana Safari Guide. Guilford, Conn.: Lyons Press, 2008.