Friday, November 12, 2010

A Woman's Place is On Top -- Annapurna

Breaking Trail, A Climbing Life by Arlene Blum, isn’t just the story of a woman who led teams of women climbing the highest mountains in the world. It is the story of a woman who broke many trails, as a chemist, an environmental activist, and as a single woman, single mother.

Told in chapters that alternate her growing up in Chicago with her own single mom, and her grandparents, with chapters about learning to climb mountains and leading groups of women, this book also serves as a journey into Arlene Blum’s mind – whom does she love? And what does she love about them? As well as what she loves about climbing mountains.

Arlene Blum is a risk taker – she risked her life on expeditions where others died. She risked her loves and her security over and over in both her choice of lovers, and her choice of educational endeavors.

She also took a chance as a child learning the Hebrew prayers that only boys were allowed to say. The boys in her Hebrew class didn’t know them and her teacher refused to call on her. Then she came to Berkeley, she was thrilled to find a synagogue where women were allowed to say the prayers, too.

She takes responsibility for every choice and makes the best of the consequences, be it allowing the other women to vote on trekking decisions that she wanted to make differently, or changing careers when as a mom, she felt she could no longer risk her life in the mountains she loves.

She has a knack for organizing events she believes in. She raised the money for the first woman’s climb of Annapurna by selling t-shirts that read “A Woman’s Place is On Top – Annapurna.” She created an annual Himalayan culture day in Berkeley because she wanted to share the foods and culture she enjoyed during her treks there. She formed a tour agency to help other people see parts of the world that she enjoys, with her guidance. And she does the necessary political work to remove poisonous fire retardant from furniture manufacture and have them replaced with safer alternatives. She’s a chemist. She tests the chemicals to see which ones cause mutations.

She’s one of the rare people who can have a strong opinion and then when she finds evidence to the contrary, she’ll change her mind and publicly talk about her new views, and her reasons for them.

The book is a valuable insight into an exciting life.

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