The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

Opinion

May 30, 2012

BICKER: Grab a good book and relax in the summer heat

CLINTON — Summer is biting at our heels, and with that, come thoughts of vacation.

I am looking forward to catching up on some reading when I take off for Wisconsin the beginning of July. I can hardly wait to sit back, relax and sit by the lake reading a good book.

Before I started working at the Herald, I read books all the time.

I loved reading biographies about my favorite actresses from the Golden Age of Hollywood such as Greer Garson, Donna Reed, Irene Dunne and Maureen O’Hara to just name a few.

Since I’m reading news on a computer screen for eight hours during the day, I’ve unfortunately discovered that I really don’t want to go home and snuggle up with a good book.

Some of my favorite books still line a bookshelf in my office at home. I recently pulled out two books I loved in junior high, “Island of the Blue Dolphins” and “Black Star: Bright Dawn,” both by Scott O’Dell. I can remember being captivated by these books as a young girl. I loved their sense of adventure and strong female characters.

“Island of the Blue Dolphins” was a required book that my classmates and I had to read in sixth grade. I couldn’t get enough of this book.

For those of you who haven’t read it, O’Dell retells the story of a young woman in the Pacific who was left alone on an island for 18 years.

This was based on the true story of The Lost Woman of San Nicholas who lived on an island alone from 1835 to 1853. The island was located about 53 miles off the coast of California. Her only companion during that time was her dog.

When she was finally rescued in 1853 by Capt. George Nidever, she was found wearing a skirt made of cormorant feathers, which was later sent to the Vatican in Rome.

She was then taken to live at the Santa Barbara Mission and was befriended by a priest who discovered her brother had been killed by wild dogs.

Her language was elusive since the Indians in her tribe had long disappeared and she could only speak using signs. Her demeanor was always happy at the mission — smiling and dancing.

After doing some research about her online, I discovered that she died of dysentery seven weeks after being rescued. Her belongings were given to the California Academy of Sciences. However, they were all destroyed during the San Francisco earthquake and fire of 1906.

When I read the book as a child, I could picture her life clearly in my mind with the aid of O’Dell’s creative writing. To me, she was an amazing woman. She was a hunter, builder and warrior all wrapped up into one.

I also loved the fact that her tried-and-true companion was her faithful dog. Even though no one ever knew what she was thinking, O’Dell led us, the readers, to believe that she was always looking for a ship to rescue her and that fateful day when she would be reunited with her people.

When I left home to attend Clarke College in the fall of 1996, I took that book along with me. I can still see it sitting on my dorm room bookshelf. It’s funny what things we gravitate to. That book brought back a lot of good childhood memories for me and somehow I didn’t feel all that alone in a new place.

I can remember feeling very sad when I reached the end of the book. Even though she was rescued, I felt sad that she had to leave the island, which became her home. One of the last paragraphs in the book still chokes me up today.

“For a long time I stood and looked back at the Island of the Blue Dolphins. The last thing I saw of it was the high headland. I thought of Rontu (her dog) lying there beneath the stones of many colors, and of Won-a-nee, wherever she was, and the little red fox that would scratch in vain at my fence, and my canoe hidden in the cave, and all of the happy days.”

Books are a wonderful thing and their words give us comfort and encouragement. I know, no matter where I go in life, that I will take the lessons and courage I found so inspiring from the girl who lived alone on The Island of the Blue Dolphins.

Angie Bicker has been employed with the Clinton Herald since 2001. She can be reached at angiebicker@clintonherald.com.

 

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