My mother gave me two books recently that I have really enjoyed, both by Peter Matthiessen. The first one I read was End of the Earth and the second was Snow Leopard. Chronologically the order in which I read them was wrong, but they were both good. Both really chilly reads, actually. I guess that was appropriate, as I read most of them huddled close to the kerosene heater.
End of the Earth chronicles Matthiessen's two trips to the South Pole on ice breakers. These were chartered trips, mostly with birders who were anxious to see some of the polar bird life. Matthiessen's prose and thorough research make the book a great read. It is a super history lesson on polar exploration and nature, a brilliant explanation about why the South Pole is so essential to life on earth as we know it, and an interesting travelogue.
The events in Snow Leopard really happened in 1973. He and a biologist, George Schaller, traveled to Nepal and the Himalayas. Schaller was interested in studying blue sheep, and Matthiessen went along for the adventure. His wife had died recently, and the trip turned into a pilgrimage of healing for him. Schaller happened to be going to Crystal Mountain, where Matthiessen hoped he would find the Lama of Shey.
As student of Zen like Matthiessen, his wanderings through the mountains, through his physical privations and his psychic pain in a Buddhist land, brought me to new understandings of spirituality.