Ridge Writers on Books: ’This Happened to me’

Review by DONNA MCCROHAN ROSENTHAL

Ridge Writers on Books: ’This Happened to me’ A favorite feature in "Outdoor Life" magazine since 1940, "This Happened to Me" (edited by Andrew McKean, full-color graphic, 2013, 192 pages, WeldonOwen, large-format paperback, $24.95) presents harrowing first-person escape dramas -- not merely illustrated, but in rich graphic-format detail. Andrew McKean has assembled the best of them for this collection of nearly 200 tales of true-life survival, most fitting on a single page.

Beginning with the conviction that "Most of us understand that danger is as much a part of our field sports as woodsmoke and gun oil," McKean proceeds to engross readers with hair-raising episodes involving an earthquake, a bursting dam, waterspouts, falling, breaking bones, braving tsunamis, half-drowning or freezing, walking in on a home invasion, and narrowly ducking alligators, grizzlies, mountain lions, sharks, moose and feisty fish. Many adventures take place in exotic locations, among them New Guinea, Ghana, the bayou and the American wilderness.

In one account set not far from here in the Sierra foothills, a man steps into an abandoned mineshaft, loses his footing and drops 40 feet, only to have a snake coil and attack him. In another, a hunter blows into a coyote call and attracts a bobcat that lunges directly for the source of the "dying rodent" sound - the man’s mouth! In a particularly unexpected narrative, a mom doing laundry outside sees a rattlesnake menacing her baby, so she lassos it and chops its head off.

Most selections emphasize intense peril: "I was on fire…. I leapt through the wall and plunged 25 feet to the ground…. As I made my way to safety, the ammo in my gun exploded." Some include humor: "It’s amazing how many people get injured by animals they’ve already killed." In several, the hunter becomes the hunted.

McKean supplements the exploits with straight-text tips for handling hypothermia, not sizzling like bacon in a lightning storm, and traveling abroad. He also offers quotations throughout the various sections, for instance John Steinbeck’s observation, "Man is the only kind of varmint that sets his own trap, baits it, then steps in it."

McKean concludes with instructions for submitting your own real-life story to "Outdoor Life." The publication pays cash for accepted material, illustrates it, and runs one

"This Happened to Me" per month. Keep it in mind the next time cobras ambush you. Until they do, you can get your excitement vicariously from this high-on-adrenalin book.

This weekly column is written by members of the Ridge Writers, the East Sierra Branch of the California Writers Club. Meetings are held the first Wednesday evening of each month at Ridgecrest Presbyterian Church and free programs are offered throughout the year. Ridge Writers’ book “Planet Mojave: Visions from a World Apart” is available at Carriage Inn, Jawbone Station, the Historic USO Building, Maturango Museum, Red Rock Books and online from the official website www.planetmojave.com.

Story First Published: 2013-08-21