Monday, March 13, 2006

Adventurous locals made good

In which M2 reviews a pretty good book: The Enchanted Quest of Dana and Ginger Lamb, by Julie Huffman-Klinkowitz & Jerome Klinkowitz, University Press of Mississippi, $28.00

I am, for the most part, an armchair adventurer. Ever since friend, CaliBubbles, gave me a copy of Byron Farwell’s epic biography of the famed 19th century traveler, Captain Sir Richard Francis Burton , KCMG (Knight Commander of the Order of Saint Michael and Saint George), many years ago, I have been a huge fan of exploration and adventure literature. I’ve planned half a dozen trips either following in Burtons footsteps or blazing paths I thought anew. None have ever come to fruition, though I have been on many smaller adventures since.

Last night I was meandering about Studio City when I happened to pass by Bookstar on Ventura. I had vague idea that I wanted a new read, but I didn’t quite know what. I ventured in and headed back to the history and biography section, as I usually do. Browsing there, my eyes lit upon a slim volume with a distinctively “pulp fiction” jacket. The Enchanted Quest of Dana and Ginger Lamb, read the title. The cover art depicted a muscular, almost Frank Frezetta-style, couple hacking their way, half-dressed through a jungle with machetes. Well, I love that kind of kitsch, so I picked it up out of curiosity, leafed through it for a moment and took it to the check-out counter.

Turns out that Dana and Ginger Lamb were Orange County natives. Married in the early 1930s – he in his mid thirties, she eleven years younger – they lit out for an adventurous honeymoon. They built a boat; a sort of half canoe, half sailboat rig, from scratch, and sailed and paddled it to Panama. It took three years. Along the way, they searched for buried treasure, lived on a desert isle, dallied with pirates and were accused more than once of being gringo spies. Eventually, they took their tiny boat through the Panama Canal itself – the smallest craft to date – and returned to the U.S. via steamer. High adventure indeed.

Being media savvy, the Lambs kept the hometown papers in Santa Ana and Orange County – and eventually the L.A. and New York papers – apprised of their adventures. By the time they returned they had become celebrities. Their book, Enchanted Vagabonds, written with a lot of help from a literary friend, became a best seller. Capitalizing on their succes, the pair went on the lecture, documentary and slideshow circuit, making a name for themselves, coast-to-coast, as family adventurers, teaching basic survival skills to the Ward and June Cleavers of America.

They went on to have more adventures: spying (for real this time) in Mexico on German suspects during World War II, searching for a lost city in the jungle between Mexico and Guatemala, hunting through Baja for a hidden mission. They never found anything they were ostensibly looking for. But that wasn’t the point. They were looking for themselves, and for a way of life – and a living – that was theirs alone. That they found in abundance.

It’s a great story and a pretty darn good book. If I have a complaint it’s that the authors, Julie Huffman-Klinkowitz and Jerome Klinkowitz tend to repeat themselves; by the time you've read the preface and introduction, you feel like you've already got the whole story. Also, not that much is known about this intriguing couple from a personal perspective and it shows in the writing. The Klinkowitzes rely heavily on old newspaper clippings; we don’t feel we really know the subjects in any intimate way. But perhaps that’s to be expected in writing about the Lambs, a public couple who gauged themselves by their reflections in the media’s eye.

But these are minor irritants. The Enchanted Quest touched me in an unexpected way. I am currently coming through a broken marriage. When I first met my then future wife, and I saw the fire in her eyes, I had thought we might have the kind of adventurous union that Dana and Ginger lived. But something always seemed to get in the way. And when things got "uncomfortable" for her – whether it was simple road-tripping, or surfing, or bicycling, or flying, or kayaking, or camping, or, at last, our marriage itself – she would just plain quit. After a while that kind of thing rubs off and before long I found myself wanting to quit, too; to stay at home where it was safe and warm and easy and dull. Home is an easy place to turn inward on yourself. It is a thing that I am still in the process of overcoming. Dana and Ginger's example will, I hope, take me out of myself and help me find my way back into the wide world where I belong.


Blogger bubbles said...

Hey now, that's me!

9:35 PM  
Blogger penny said...

What a beautiful post. I read Dana and Ginger Lamb's book when I was 8; picked it up off my grandparents' shelf, and have never looked back. It is probably the most influential book of my life. I go to Thailand next month for a month and hope to experience it the way Sir Richard Burton would have. Sans the body mutilation. Good luck with your adventures, friend.

10:33 PM  

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