North By Northwest / My Old Man and the Sea

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The first Book of the Week is “North By Northwest, A Seafaring Family on Deadly Alaska Waters” by Captain Sig Hansen and Mark Sundeen, published in 2010.

Born in the Seattle area in 1966, Hansen was of Norwegian ancestry. He was mentored in fishing for a living by his grandfather, father, and the Norwegian fishing community. His older male relatives had been sourcing seafood for decades. The community had been growing in the upper Midwest in the United States since the early 1800’s. It was a lucrative, male-dominated career– a subculture bearing a resemblance to military life in certain ways:

  • Teamwork was required of five or six men who lived in close quarters, doing rigorous physical work under life-threatening conditions at all times at sea;
  • There were numerous ways to: become seriously injured, and / or suffer serious financial losses rather than reap huge financial gains from selling expensive seafood;
  • The crew consisted of a hierarchy whose entry involved initiation rites in the form of practical jokes that were not always harmless; and
  • Even during the off-season, the men’s drinking fostered male bonding that allowed them to mitigate the emotional stress of their work, and maintain their relationships in the old-boy network.

After high school, Hansen apprenticed as a deckhand on his father’s boat. The men were away at sea from nine to eleven months of the year, using “pots” (large, unwieldy cages that trap the seafood) to catch: red crab in the Bering Sea and near Nome in Alaska and near Adak, blue crab at St. Matthew, and opilio crab at Dutch Harbor.

In the 1980’s, the fishermen were allowed to carry boxes of live crabs in the plane cabin on Reeve Aleutian Airways. When starting their winter fishing season, if they were extremely lucky, they could complete their flight from Anchorage to Dutch Harbor in Alaska on an icy twin-prop plane. They booked it months in advance, arrived at the airport in the wee hours of the morning, and prayed that the weather would cooperate.

Read the book to learn a little history about seafaring in general, including the context of the following quote:

“That winter he was killed by Hawaiians at Kealakekua Bay, his body torn apart and burned.”

and much more about Hansen’s life and times in his community. By the way, he appeared on the reality TV show, “Deadliest Catch.”

The second Book of the Week is “My Old Man and the Sea, A Father and Son Sail Around Cape Horn” by David Hays and Daniel Hays, published in 1995. Father and son alternately described, beginning in the new year of 1985, their adventures at sea– sailing (with no motor) on a tiny yacht for fun from New London, Connecticut southward thousands of miles, and eventually, around the tip of South America from west to east (the less dangerous route). They began testing their boat in fall 1984, sailing through the Panama Canal, and the Caribbean Sea.

As they well knew, all kinds of discomforts and life-threatening dangers awaited them. That was the challenge of it. Even with all of their experience in purchasing the boat, making it seaworthy (over the course of two years), maintaining their (then-primitive) communications and navigation equipment (which required them to pack thousands of items for every possible scenario they might encounter), they still suffered injuries, seasickness, hangovers, etc. When sailing along the South Carolina and Georgia coasts, the chart warned them to watch out for “… unexploded mines, rocket casings and torpedoes, and chemical warfare dumpings.”

On their voyages, they met with visiting family or friends to celebrate Jewish holidays such as Yom Kippur. They attended a service at a synagogue on the island of Jamaica. The ark and dais were at opposite ends of the sanctuary, on a floor comprised of sand (representative of a desert).

Much later, when they arrived at a port in the Galapagos Islands, local law allowed them to pollute the water there for only three days; then they had to ship out. The authors described the area thusly: “In the name of white rice and virginity, Western man spent a good two hundred years raping, robbing, and leaving neat diseases here.” It was rumored to be a gateway to Atlantis, and the approximate population was three thousand.

The onshore entertainment consisted of the American movie “Blade Runner” whose soundtrack was poor quality, and whose reels were screened out of order, but the native people in the theater were undemanding.

The authors related that it is easily conceivable that about a hundred men could have made the sculptures on Easter Island over the course of a few decades, thus blowing speculations of alien-artists out of the water.

Read the book to: learn additional info about the authors’ adventures at sea (including their crazy pets), about previous trips made by them and others, see sample pages of their log, a diagram of their boat, and much more.

I Am A Girl From Africa

[Please note: The word “Featured” on the left side above was NOT inserted by this blogger, but apparently was inserted by WordPress, and it cannot be removed. NO post in this blog is sponsored.]

The Book of the Week is “I Am A Girl From Africa, a memoir (sic)” by Elizabeth Nyamayaro, published in 2021.

Born in 1975, Nyamayaro grew up in Zimbabwe. Her family belonged to the Shona tribe. She spent her early years residing in a hut in a rural village, where she was treated like an only child, unwittingly through dysfunctional-family circumstances. Her grandmother taught her to do all sorts of chores: fetching water, hunting birds with a slingshot, fishing with a sharp stick, shelling maize, tending to the goats and chickens, weeding the fields, and cooking vegetables in a clay pot over a fire that she ignited.

Life-threatening conditions abounded from diseases, poor nutrition, hostile animals such as hyenas, and droughts such as those that occurred in 1983 and 1985. The author’s gratitude for the life-saving rehydration by a member of UNICEF, led her to develop a burning desire as an adult to “give back” through working for the United Nations.

In the early 1980’s, initially, Nyamayaro’s grandmother rejoiced at the news from her battery-operated radio, that the country had a new leader, the dark-skinned Robert Mugabe. The end of British colonialism ought to have meant an end to the needless killing of wildlife, theft of precious stones, and oppression of Africans. However, a new leader is just one individual who might or might not change things for the better in the long run, given his personality and the vicissitudes of his time and place in history.

The author– who appears to have bragging-rights, given the hardships she faced– made progress on various Third-World, quality-of-life causes during her career. Mitigation of the global oppression of females was one such cause. The author was pleased to report that in 2013, the nation of Rwanda, in the previous decade, had made great strides in electing women to its parliament. But there is still so much work to be done in Mongolia, India, Zimbabwe, and the United States, etc. because propagandized gender-stereotypes are still discouraging women from running for office.

The author recounted that one day in 1975 in Iceland, all the women went on strike. The country then realized how vital females were to life. Even so, it took until 2018 (!) to legislate there on the issue of gender equality in the private sector, of equal pay for equal work. Additionally, on so many other fronts, gender equality is lacking even in the nations that consider themselves the most advanced on earth!

Read the book to learn many more details on the struggles Nyamayaro faced in her life and times.

Quiet Strength – BONUS POST

The Bonus Book of the Week is “Quiet Strength, The Principles, Practices, & Priorities of A Winning Life” by Tony Dungy with Nathan Whitaker, published in 2007.

Born in 1954, Dungy grew up to become a professional football coach. In 1999, at an after-game press conference, he expressed his displeasure with the referees’ rulings and instant replays. He was fined by the then-NFL commissioner ten thousand dollars.

About four years later, and again, about six years later– an instant replay helped Dungy’s team win in the last play of the game. The way the former win occurred was unprecedented in that the team scored three touchdowns in the last four minutes of an away game on Monday night, against the latest Super Bowl winners, in his original hometown. On his birthday.

Dungy thought God had something to do with that. Read the book to learn much more about his religious bent, philosophy, and the different roles he played in his life, in addition to that of coach.

Tom Landry

The Book of the Week is “Tom Landry, An Autobiography” by Tom Landry with Gregg Lewis, published in 1990.

Landry was born in September 1924 in the small town of Mission, Texas. He enjoyed a boyhood typical for his time and place– bicycle riding, fishing in the Rio Grande, and watching movies at the local theater every Saturday afternoon. Every Saturday night, Methodist and Baptist families mingled at a block party in the neighborhood. Kids in those days organized themselves in their own pick-up football games at the local sandlot.

Although Landry received a full scholarship from the University of Texas, beginning in 1944, he flew thirty missions for the Army Air Corps in the war. When he returned to school in 1947, he played the position of fullback, but suffered various injuries. By the time he graduated in 1949, he had become a rusher, and gotten signed by the football Yankees of the All-American Football Conference. Some of his fellow players were already in their mid-thirties, after having completed their military service and educations.

In 1954, Landry’s leadership talent was recognized. He served as an assistant coach, punter and played defense for the New York Giants football team in the NFL. At that time, they played in Yankee Stadium. On the day of the Championship game in December 1956, the field was frozen. The Giants’ management provided the team with basketball sneakers so they wouldn’t slip and slide on the ice.

Landry remarked that his and Vince Lombardi’s coaching styles were both successful, although they were starkly different. Lombardi’s team, the Green Bay Packers, played well because if they didn’t, they would receive the coach’s wrath. They emotionally bonded like soldiers (whom they had been) so that they wanted to win for their teammates more than themselves. Landry didn’t make his players fear him, but armed them with knowledge and confidence.

In their generations, Landry and Lombardi experienced an extremely serious: financial crisis, and war. These forced them to adopt a team-oriented mentality in order to survive. Their children’s and grandchildren’s generations– who came of age in the 1960’s– prompted a tumultuous shift in American culture that resulted in the recognition of the value of the individual. Unfortunately, that mindset has been taken to the extreme with the current younger generation. The technology of the Internet allows everyone on earth to express themselves with few filters– making for a very cluttered global communications environment.

Landry opined that Lombardi gave the impression that he was hellbent on winning, but– he still cared about people. These days, the kinds of people who garner the most attention on social media tend to be sociopathic (of course there are exceptions). Landry characterized them thusly: “If winning is the only thing that matters… You’d cheat. You’d sacrifice your marriage or your family to win. Relationships wouldn’t matter.” The god-fearing Methodist Landry believed that his religion led people to behave better, but now he’d roll over in his grave.

Anyway, the summer of 1960 saw Landry talent-spotting and recruiting 193 potential members of the Dallas Cowboys– an expansion team that was later drastically winnowed down to a few tens of players at their training camp in Oregon. In their first season, the Cowboys tied the Giants in the second-to-last game, else they would have lost all of their then-twelve games. Nonetheless, the Cowboys’ owner knew that nurturing a winning football team takes time, and had faith in Landry’s abilities as a coach. In 1964, he awarded Landry a ten-year contract as head coach. Landry took that as a religious sign that coaching a professional football team was what he should continue to do with his life.

Landry contracted with IBM to use a computer program to analyze potential players’ talents in the NFL draft in order to reap the cream of the crop for his Cowboys. After the 1963 season and thereafter, he reviewed films of his existing players in actual games to identify their strengths and weaknesses. In 1965, he hired an industrial psychologist, who helped his players set team and individual goals. Preparing Lambeau Field in Green Bay for the 1967 season, Lombardi installed an underground heating system, which cost $80,000. On playoff day, December 31, the temperature hovered around negative 16 degrees Fahrenheit.

Read the book to learn about the Cowboys’ star quarterback of the 1970’s, the team’s amazing comebacks, and much more about Landry’s trials, tribulations and triumphs in coaching and in life.

The Generous Years – BONUS POST

The Bonus Book of the Week is “The Generous Years, Remembrances of a Frontier Boyhood” by Chet Huntley, published in 1968.

Born in March 1911, the author grew up in Montana. When he was about two years old, his immediate family took advantage of the Homestead Act, claiming 320 acres of ranch and farm land in northern Montana. Extended family members acquired hundreds of additional acres. His mother’s father was particularly helpful in beginning to make the land livable and workable. The author detailed the extensive hard manual labor required for doing so.

They had to dig a well, construct various buildings on the site as residences for people and animals, for storage; not to mention outhouses. They had to purchase and maintain farm machinery (primitive at the time, of course), and install fences. The author learned how to approach and care for farm animals without getting injured. Regardless of the author’s grandfather’s accumulation of life experiences that warded off reasonably preventable problems, there still occurred all kinds of disasters beyond the family’s control.

One year, in less than ten minutes, a hailstorm ruined the flax crop. Other years, devastation was wrought by: locusts, rust spores, tumbleweed of thistle, fires resulting from a lightning storm and other causes, blizzards, drought, etc., etc., etc. The author described the tenor of the times– one of virtue and cooperation among the members (not just his relatives) of his community. “There were bills to be paid in town. They must be settled; that was a point of honor and conscience.”

Due to financial struggle, the author’s father was forced to return to his previous career as a railroad telegrapher, which required the family to move around Montana every few months or years. The author began his formal education in a one-room schoolhouse, with about a dozen other kids (which eventually included his three younger sisters) in grades one through eight, and one teacher.

Read the book to learn how the author’s education of the outside world accelerated when his family moved to urban areas such as Saco and Butte (hint: he and his high school friends were treated almost like adults in the gambling halls, speakeasies, bordellos and elsewhere), and many more aspects of the kinder, simpler America of his generation.