“Amazingly, we take for granted that instinct for survival, fear of death, must separate us from the happiness of pure and uninterrupted experience in which body, mind, and nature and the same.” (42)
Matthiessen’s book is part travelogue, part naturalist observations, and part coming to terms with loss. About a year after the death of his wife, Matthiessen travels along with a friend in search of a snow leopard, really in the search of big blue sheep. It’s much hiking and camping, and eating.
Early in the book, I found myself wondering why or to be more exact what type of father would leave a young son just a year after the son lost his mother. Matthiessen himself seems to be aware of this reaction, and he does not try to beg excuses. Instead, he quotes his son’s letter, a sobering missive.
And yet, this is not a self-indulgent pity party book.
It’s a book about coming to terms with one’s self, with loss, with life. Or what “Walt Whitman celebrated the most ancient secret, that no God could be found more divine than yourself” (63)
The point is that Matthiessen is able to make this a book about enlightenment, both his and the readers, so much so that one des agree with GS who wonders if it would perhaps be better if the snow leopard remained unseen.
At times, the reader does wonder. For instance, if PM had been a mother, would the book have garnered as much support and positive reviews. Is my reaction about his leaving his son because I don’t, I can’t, understand PM’s own grieving process? What is normal grieving anyway?
In many, it is the confessional tone, the prompting of these questions as well as the wonderful nature writing make the book worth a read.