Supermarket Backpacker

I came for the flannel, but I stayed for Harriett. I didn’t see this book in 1977, but I’m glad I found it now.

I bought a used copy of Supermarket Backpacker by Harriett Barker and I love it. This sentence starting at the bottom of page one may be the truest thing ever written in a cookbook: “Don’t forget that water is the only thing you can cook really well when backpacking in the high mountains.” I have proved that it is true in the flatlands, too. Ask the other members of the Raccoon Patrol.

How many cookbooks have an intro with more information than the four pages in this book? Not many. Perhaps more trail cookbooks should be written by “an avid outdoorswoman as well as a trained home economist.”

For the perfect icing on the cake, a friend wrote haiku for each chapter.

Backpacking for days.
Found! New evidence of man…
Plastic container.

Also, lovely pen and ink illustrations from two other friends. We should all be so lucky in our friends.

This book has a huge amount of information. Brand names, vegetarian meals, kosher meals, a Mexican sopa seca recipe. You could camp for years on just this cookbook.

One more quote from page 86, in the dehydrating section:

A good rule to follow when making any leather…if it tastes good in the blender, it will taste twice as good at camp. Before drying, sample and make additions until the combination pleases you.

There is only one thing that makes me sad from this book. We can no longer buy a Wilson’s bacon bar. Dang, I miss those.

The Wrong Map

I found this great story while researching our tendency to be optimistic in estimating work. There is a Scoutmaster Minute or three in this, for sure.

There is a story told by Albert Szent-Györgyi […]. A platoon of soldiers during World War II was lost in the Alps. Overcome with fear and despair, they did little until an officer found a map. Then they rallied, worked and finally found their way to safety. Only later did they learn that the map was of the Pyrenees, not the Alps.

This is great news for those brand-new to leadership, like Patrol Leaders. Even if your information is wrong, it may be enough to make the group more confident and pull everyone together.

It also shows the difference between being lost and merely not knowing your location. Without the map, they were truly lost. With the map, even the wrong map, they now had a goal and a plan and were no longer lost.

Finally, we are who we think we are, especially in groups. Believing we will succeed is critical to getting to the goal.

I found this in Taking Myths Seriously: An Essay For Lawyers by Donald C. Langevoort. A PDF copy is here. His source was Sensemaking in Organizations by Karl E. Weick, page 54, 1995.

For the original story, as far as it can be traced, check pages 16-17 in Any Old Map won’t Do, a study of the origins and mutations of the story.

The Sense of Style

The best book I read in 2014 is a book about writing and grammar. You are justifiably skeptical, but Steven Pinker is a graceful, funny writer with something important to say—good writing is both natural and organized, at every level.

The Sense of Style by Steven Pinker obsoletes all those prissy style guides, including the overrated “Strunk & White”. The only guide that can stand is Joseph M. William’s Style: Towards Clarity and Grace, a detailed carpenter’s manual to writing clear, descriptive prose.

Steven Pinker’s book dives deeper, building on what we have learned about how the mind processes language. This is not just how language works, it is also why language works. How many linguistic balls do we need to juggle in the air until we find the key to the sentence? How deep a grammar tree can we comfortably process? How many times does Pinker revise? [Hint: At least five or six times, with different reviewers.]

The last part of the book, after we have been given the linguistic tools, walks through a laundry list of writing rules, evaluating each one and skewering the unfounded prejudices.

This book will be in print for a long time, but read it now. Then read it again.