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SHERPA STORY. Many stories have been told about the dangers and triumphs of climbing to the summit of Mount Everest, but few have been written about the Sherpa ó the people who have lived on the mountain for centuries and consider it sacred. Christine Taylor-Butlerís breathtaking Sacred Mountain: Everest speaks of these people who love the mountain.

From The Asian Reporter, V20, #01 (January 5, 2010), page 16.

People who love mountains

Sacred Mountain: Everest

By Christine Taylor-Butler
Lee & Low Books, 2009
Hardcover, 48 pages, $19.95

By Josephine Bridges

Christine Taylor-Butler opens her breathtaking book with a quote from 13th-century zen master Dogen: "Although mountains belong to the nation, mountains really belong to people who love them." Itís clear when you make the trek through the pages of Sacred Mountain: Everest that this is a work of great love.

From the moody mountain portrait on the first page, to the image of Buddhist monks making a sand mandala, to the snapshot of schoolchildren in magenta sweaters, photographs taken by too many people to count grace the authorís text. And think about it: Every person in every photograph in this book probably loves the mountain known as both Everest and Chomolungma.

Big, colorful maps at the beginning of the book place the mountain in its global, continental, and local perspective, allowing readers to orient themselves geographically at any time. The rest of Sacred Mountain: Everest is divided into chapters with sidebars. Christine Taylor-Butlerís book is a little like a mountain trek: Thereís an eventual goal and a trail clearly leading the way, but youíll probably want to get off the trail now and then to explore. My favorite sidebars are the Sherpa names for the days of the week and "How the Himalaya Were Formed." If youíre partial to wildlife ó and who isnít ó the photographs and descriptions of the Himalayan red panda, Himalayan tahr, and snow leopard will enchant you. There are even a few words about the Yeti, also known as the Abominable Snowman.

The center of the book is two consecutive chapters called "Reaching for the Summit" and "Reclaiming the Mountain." Accompanied by historical photographs and a timeline of Mount Everest firsts, "Reaching for the Summit" is largely a record of foreignersí accomplishments on the mountain, though itís not all complimentary. "Reclaiming the Mountain" is the story of the climbers who donít just visit but live in the shadow of the sacred mountain. "As of 2008, Apa Sherpa held the world record for reaching the summit of Mount Everest eighteen times," the author tells us, then introduces us to the Nepali women who have climbed the mountain.

All is not well in the highest place on earth, and it is to Christine Taylor-Butlerís credit that she discusses the problems of deforestation, pollution, and climate change. Yet Sacred Mountain: Everest ends on a hopeful note with descriptions of the Himalayan Trust, Sagarmatha National Park, and the American Himalayan Foundation ó all of which are working to ensure a healthy future for the beloved mountain ó and a wonderful sidebar on "Tenzing Norgayís Legacy."

The last words in Sacred Mountain: Everest, like the first, speak of people who love mountains: "... the Sherpa who have served as its spiritual caretakers for hundreds of years. These people and their culture are the mountainís most important legacy, its hope for the future, and its most precious gift to the world."

 

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