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In 11 honest but effortful essays, Bledsoe (This Wild Silence: A Novel) explores "the relationship between fear and grace" born from her often dangerous outdoor adventures. She muses on what propels her to a summit in "Dead Horse Pass," a climb in Wyoming's Bighorn Mountains: "Perhaps it is an ache for beauty... to lose one's will for a moment... to experience pure awe." Invoking the naturalist John Muir, Bledsoe asserts she seeks more than an endorphin high; climbing a mountain is "an act of worship." In "The Freedom Machine," she meets a woman cycling across the Mojave Desert, not for sport but to escape an abusive husband. Romanticizing the lone, desperate traveler, Bledsoe deems her the embodiment of a bicycle's importance: "escape, physical empowerment, and ultimately a recovery of my imagination in a landscape." The author is a three-time visitor to Antarctica, and "The Breath of Seals" recounts her stint there—from survival school on the Ross Ice Shelf to a jaunt to the South Pole—as an artist-in-residence with the National Science Foundation. A longing for spiritual release Bledsoe can find only in the wilderness is woven through these thoughtful essays. (Sept.)
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Bledsoe carves a comfortable niche for herself in women's travel writing with this essay collection covering everything from a regrettable vacation crewing a Caribbean sailing ship to a thrilling position as artist-in-residence in Antarctica. On each adventure recounted, Bledsoe emphasizes her quest for a deeper understanding of the wild. After a dangerous episode in the Sierras, she writes, "I quickly saw that neither grace nor will could be understood without looking deeply at fear, a theme that had arisen time and again in my writings about the wild." Bledsoe finds that fear comes in all shapes and sizes, from sighting suspected UFOs in Colorado to wolves in Alaska. She faces her most dangerous moments in Antarctica, identifying with Ernest Shackleton because, "in spite of his enormous accomplishments, he knew that yielding was exactly what he must do, over and over again in the wilderness." Bledsoe has crafted a very engaging and often humorous collection with an impassioned voice and clear dedication to her subject matter. Colleen Mondor
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