Medicine for the Outdoors
Medicine for the Outdoors

Dr. Paul Auerbach is the world's leading outdoor health expert. His blog offers tips on outdoor safety and advice on how to handle wilderness emergencies.

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Forget Me Not

Forget Me Not is an engaging and very well written memoir by Jennifer Lowe-Anker, the widow of the famous climber Alex Lowe and now the wife of Alex's dear friend and climbing partner, Conrad Anker. While it has been praised as a story of three people, it is really more about Jennifer and her relationship with Alex. After all, in relative terms, the story of her relationship with Conrad is yet to unfold, and in the aftermath of what she and Conrad have been through, some semblance of privacy is appropriate.

One is struck immediately by the openness of the writing - exposure really - on matters that must be as painful as they are sometimes joyous to recall. There is wonderfully detailed exposition of the nature of the great climber, Alex Lowe, but that is not what holds the reader. Rather, it is the recognition of the complexity of all relationships, and how much depth can be attained if one is willing to examine the details of life. Many of us would have such riveting stories to tell, if we could take the time and had the literary skills of Jennifer Lowe-Anker.

The foreword by Jon Krakauer is representative of his best work. It summarizes the amazing climbing capability of Alex Lowe, and accurately sets Lowe apart in skills and emotional suitability for climbing from most other climbers of his generation and eras past. As are most gifted explorers and adventurers, Alex was confident with an "edge," loving to instruct, but eager to attain new goals. He blossomed outside of the comfort zone of others, and was the climbers' climber. The trait of many of the "great ones" is to sleep very little, arise early, and lament that there are just not enough hours in the day. But, as Krakauer points out, no one is indestructible. When your profession or avocation has you often hanging from a rope or trying to outrun an avalanche, anything less that constant and complete perfection can be catastrophic. For the extreme being, it's not a question of if, it's a question of when.

Jenni Lowe-Anker is a masterful storyteller. In recounting her relationship with Alex Lowe, she is able to intertwine a sense for her family's "prairie values" with her youthful exuberance and willingness to take a chance on a relationship, with the sometimes rocky course of being in love with a partner who does not hesitate to ask for his fair share of tolerance and personal sacrifice. The pursuit of excellence is a laudable trait, but can be burdensome when it does not match up perfectly with other important things in life, such as family and down time. As Jenni Lowe tells it, living with and loving Alex Lowe was spontaneous at first, then became an acquired taste. There is never a truly major moment of doubt portrayed in this book, but perhaps Jenni is still holding something back. I of course respect her either way, because no matter how great a sense of foreboding may have come into play before the tragic death of her adventurous husband, that is not relevant for the future life she must lead. There is much work to be done raising her children and continuing to forge a relationship with her current partner, and doing the amazing and creative things she has always been meant to do.

For those who do not know the story, Alex Lowe was killed in a snow avalanche that spared the life of his good friend Conrad Anker. Jennifer and Conrad, among others, were grief stricken, to which Conrad added an element of survivor's remorse. In consoling Jennifer and her children, he was also consoling himself. He and Jennifer relatively rapidly escalated their relationship, fell in love, and married.

There is a great deal of intensity and self-analysis, and for any reader who has lived life to any significant degree, much with which to identify. Who among us has not had their behaviors molded to some degree by their relationships with their parents, and who among us has not fallen into and out of love? As we get older, we lose precious relatives and friends, less often to natural disasters than to cancer and automobile accidents, but the pain and lack of fairness are the same. How long are we to grieve, and when are we allowed to fall in love again? Lowe-Anker wrestles with the humanity of the living, and graciously bestows forgiveness and equanimity upon the obstacles that she has overcome to continue her life. For, as she notes, life goes on.

Forget Me Not, by Jennifer Lowe-Anker. The Mountaineers Books

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Dr. Paul S. Auerbach is the world’s leading authority on wilderness medicine.