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Item #: BK144-864
A LADY'S LIFE IN THE ROCKY MOUNTAINS 1988 Isabella Lucy Bird Paperback
By Bird, Isabella
Price: $3.95


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1988. 256 pp, photos. Paperback, Fine.

In 1854, at the age of twenty-two, Isabella Bird left England and began traveling as a cure for her ill health. Over the years she explored Asia, the Sandwich Islands, Hawaii, and both the Eastern and Western United States. A Lady's Life in the Rocky Mountains contains letters written to her sister during her six-month journey through the Colorado Rockies in 1873. Traveling alone, usually on horseback, often with no clear idea of where she will spend the night in what is mostly uninhabited wilderness, she covers over a thousand miles, most of it during the winter months.

A well-educated woman who had known a comfortable life, she thinks nothing of herding cattle at a hard gallop, falling through ice, getting lost in snowstorms, and living in a cabin where the temperatures are well below zero and her ink freezes even as she writes. She befriends desperados and climbs 14,000 foot mountains, ready for any adventure that allows her to see the unparalleled beauty of nature. Her rare complaints have more to do with having to ride side-saddle while in town than with the conditions she faces. An awe-inspiring woman, she is also a talented writer who brings to life Colorado of more than one hundred years ago, when today's big cities were only a small collection of frame houses, and while and beautiful areas were still largely untouched. 

Isabella Bird, Biography, from Wikipedia

Early life

She was born in Boroughbridge, Yorkshire. Her father, Edward Bird, was a Church of England priest and the family moved several times across Britain as Edward received different parish postings, most notably in 1848 when he was replaced as vicar of St. Thomas' when his parishioners objected to the style of his ministry.

Isabella was a sickly child and spent her entire life strugglingwith various ailments, which seem to have had something of apyschogenic character: when she was doing exactly what she wanted shewas almost never ill and what Isabella wanted to do was travel. In 1854she was given 100 by her father and went to visit relatives inAmerica. She was allowed to stay until her money ran out. The results of the journey, she wrote up anonymously in her first book The Englishwoman in America, published in 1856.The following year she went to Canada and then toured Scotland, buttime spent in Britain always seemed to make her ill and following thedeath of her mother in 1868she embarked on a series of excursions in order to avoid settlingpermanently with her sister Henrietta (Henny) on the island of Mull.Henny was the stay-at-home type in a way that was unendurable toIsabella who supported her travels through writing. Many of her worksare compiled from letters she wrote home to her sister in Scotland.

Travels

Isabella finally left for foreign parts in 1872, going first to Australia, which she disliked and then to Hawaii (then called the Sandwich Isles) which she fell in love with and which led to her second book (published three years later in 1875). She then moved on to Colorado,then the newest state in America, where she had heard the air wasexcellent for the infirm. Dressed practically and riding not sidesaddle but frontwards like a man (though she threatened to sue the Times for saying she dressed like one) she covered over 800 miles in the Rocky Mountains in 1873 and her letters back to Henny comprised her third and perhaps her most famous book, A Lady's Life in the Rocky Mountains.

Isabella's time in the Rockies was enlivened especially by her acquaintance with Jim Nugent,a text book outlaw with one eye and equal tendency towards violence andpoetry. 'A man any woman might love but no sane woman would marry',Isabella declared, in a section excised from her letters prior to theirpublication. Jim too seemed captivated by the independently mindedIsabella but ultimately she left the Rockies and her 'dear desperado'.Jim was shot dead less than a year later.

At home, Isabella again found herself pursued, this time by John Bishop an Edinburgh doctor in his thirties. Predictably ill, she went travelling again, this time to the far east: Japan, China, Vietnam and Singapore.By this time Henny was ill and died of typhoid in 1880. Isabella washeartbroken and finally accepted Bishop's proposal of marriage. Herhealth took a severe turn for the worst but by the time Bishop himselfdied in 1886,Isabella had been put back together. Feeling that her earlier travelshad been hopelessly dilettante, she studied medicine and resolved totravel as a missionary. Despite nearing sixty she set off for India.

Later years

Arriving on the subcontinent in February 1889Isabella visited missions in India, crossed Tibet and then travelled inTurkey, Persia and Kurdistan. The following year she joined a group ofBritish soldiers travelling between Baghdad and Tehran. She remainedwith the unit's commanding officer during a period of his survey workin the region armed with her revolver and a medicine chest supplied (anearly example of corporate sponsorship?) by Henry Wellcome's company in London.

Featured in journals and magazines for decades, Isabella was by now something of a household name and recognition followed. In 1892 she became the first woman inducted into the Royal Geographical Society. Her final great journey took place in 1897where she travelled up the Yangtze and Han rivers in China and inKorea. But later still she went to Morocco, where she travelled amongthe Berber Arabs and had to use a ladder to mount her horse. She diedin Edinburgh within a few months of her return, just shy of her seventy-third birthday. She was still planning another trip to China.

'There never was anybody', wrote the Spectator, 'who had adventures as well as Miss Bird.' In 1982, Caryl Churchill used her as a character in her play Top Girls. Much of the dialogue written by Churchill comes from Bird's own writings.


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