Book Shelf THE STACKS

Aviatrix

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On Today’s Menu:
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** Share some pudding ya maziwa lala
for a bush pilot’s birthday.
** Linger to marvel over the three astonishing careers of one woman in 1930s East Africa.
** Savor a last ½ cup on a trip along the coast of South Africa, circa 2015.
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STT-56

First Sip:

I learned to wander.
I learned what every dreaming child
needs to know—that no horizon is

so far that you cannot get above it
or beyond it.
– Beryl Markham

.

Slice of Cake:


Addo Elephant National Park, South Africa
December 2015
(photo by Prof B)

There is one book that I love to give as a gift—
most often it’s been to a niece for their high school graduation.
(And I bet you’ll be able to guess why…)

The book is written by a woman who tells her own story.
It’s about her childhood, about wild animals, about her several careers,
about her friends, about her father,
about a long flight that she made in a single-engine plane.

It’s a book about romance—
the romance of African plains at night, of solo flights at dawn,
the romance of running horses and daring rescues,
of a world record and a ticker tape parade.

But it’s also notable for what it’s not about.
Refreshingly not about.

Because reading Beryl Markham’s own words about herself,
there’s plenty of romance—
but zero romantic partners.

And it wasn’t until many years later that I
ever read anyone else’s words about her.


In West With the Night, Beryl Markham talks about
her astounding childhood.

Her family came to Africa from England when she was 3 years old.
Her mother and younger brother returned to England when she was 4.
Beryl stayed with her father in Africa.
And that made all the difference.

I had to look after myself and then
I used to go off and read by myself
and think by myself.
Funnily enough it made me.


– Beryl Markham
in a newspaper interview in 1983 1

With her mother absent, her father often busy, and their closest European neighbors miles away, Beryl was raised by and socialized with the Africans who lived on and near their farm.

I don’t know how many languages Beryl Markham learned, but probably at least Kipsigis, Gĩkũyũ, Bantu, Nilotic, and the Maa language of the Maasai, as well as Swahili, French, and English.

Her childhood seems quite full of animals.
* One night a leopard came in and took the dog sleeping next to her on her bed. (The dog survived.)
* Another day, a baboon attacked her, screaming, trapping her against the wall of her hut, biting and scratching her until she killed it with a club (her knobkerrie). 2
* At age 10, she was chewed on by a neighbor’s pet lion.
* A couple of years later, she was rushed by another lion. (This was while she was warthog hunting with two Maasai warriors and the men were able to negotiated their way past the lion unharmed.) 2
* When she was 12, she was awakened every morning by a zebra foal nuzzling her. She called him Punda, which is Swahili for donkey. (She didn’t adopt the zebra—he adopted her, after following one of their horses home one day. After several months the young zebra wandered off and she never saw it again.) 2
But of all the animals she wrote about, the ones she loved best were horses.

Horses in particular
have been as much a part of my life as past birthdays.
I remember them more clearly.
There is no phase of my childhood I cannot

recall by remembering a horse I owned then,
or one my father owned, or one I knew.
They were not all gentle and kind.
They were not all alike.

– from West With the Night
by
Beryl Markham

Beryl Markham grew up on a horse farm in the Rift Valley, 100 miles from Nairobi, 3
and her father raised, bred, trained, and raced thoroughbreds.
He won often.
Beryl helped and learned and trained along with him.


In West With the Night, Beryl Markham talks about
her astounding careers.

Her father lost their farm following a severe drought.
He decided to go seek his fortune in South America.
Beryl was 17 years old.
She decided to stay in Kenya and start a horse business of her own.
Her father encouraged her, gave her a couple of horses, and left for Peru.

At age 18, Beryl Markham became the
first licensed female racehorse trainer in Africa, and quite probably the world. 3
Her jockeys always wore blue and silver and they often won gold. 1

One day while out riding her horse, she met a man fixing his broken down car.2
Automobiles were rare enough in 1930s Kenya, but there on the road that day,
Tom Black talked to her about something even rarer: Aeroplanes.

When you fly you get a feeling of
possession that you couldn’t have if you owned all of Africa.
You feel that everything you see belongs to you—
all the pieces are put together, and the whole is yours;
not that you want it, but because, when you’re alone in a plane,
there’s no one to share it. It’s there and it’s yours.
It makes you feel bigger than you are—
closer to being something you’ve sensed you might be capable of,
but never had the courage to seriously imagine.


– Tom Black
as quoted by Beryl Markham
in West With the Night

Tom Black taught her flying, which she took to amazingly fast.
In 1933, at age 31, she got her commercial pilot’s license and began a one-woman business as a bush pilot.
She painted her plane blue and silver—her horse-racing colors.4

I was my own employer,
my own pilot,
and as often as not my own
ground engineer as well.

– from West With the Night
by
Beryl Markham

Her business was a busy one.

Beryl Markham flew to deliver mail and medical supplies to goldminers in Kakmega in Western Kenya;
to take tourists on flight-seeing tours of the Mombasa coastline, and she pioneered the practice of scouting game for hunters5 on safari in the Kenyan outbackthough Markham herself wasn’t interested in non-food hunting, and preferred taking photos of animals.1

Even in 1935
it wasn’t easy to get a plane in East Africa
and it was almost impossible
to get very far across country without one.

– from West With the Night
by
Beryl Markham

As the first pilot to offer
aerial game-scouting on a commercial basis…
Her directional instructions,
dropped to the hunters in leather message bags,
were meticulous in the extreme, detailing the animal
and herd size, the density of the surrounding bush,
the distance away from the hunting party
and a precise compass bearing to follow.

– Derek O’Connor4,5

Beryl Markham
with her Vega Gull named Messenger
1936
(Getty Image)

In West With the Night, Beryl Markham talks about
her astounding world record.

The first man to fly alone across the Atlantic Ocean was Charles Lindbergh in 1927.
The first woman to do it was Amelia Earhart in 1932.
However, they both went the ‘easy direction’ flying eastward from America to Europe—with the prevailing winds.

The first person to try flying westward against the winds (the ‘hard direction’) was a man named Jim Mollison. He attempted a flight in 1932 from Ireland to New York City, but had to make a forced landing in New Brunswick, Canada—about 575 miles northeast of New York.

When Beryl Markham decided to try this flight, she opted not to use the ‘headstart’ of flying from Ireland, instead she picked an extra-long runway just outside London, England—some 350 miles further east than Mollison’s starting spot.

Jim Mollison helped her train, and in 1936, just before she boarded her plane, he handed her the watch he’d worn on his flight for good luck.1

Her original flying teacher Tom Black, who had also helped her train, wasn’t with her at take off. He had seen that the weather was bad that morning and assumed that Beryl would reschedule the flight. (She didn’t.)1

Beryl Markham flew a Vega Gull
named ‘Messenger’
(perhaps a nod to the leather message bags
she’d drop to hunters with directions)

It was a single-engine, wood-and-fabric plane.
Three of its four seats held extra tanks of fuel so that
she could fly more miles than the plane was built for.
The extra weight was why she needed the mile-long runway
at RAF Abingdon near London.
4

She flew for 21½ hours and covered 2600 miles, mostly in the dark.

Beryl Markham became the first person to successfully fly west
from England to America.

But her plane didn’t make it to New York.
Instead, she was forced to land in Nova Scotia, Canada—around 600 miles east of Mollison’s landing. (In fact, the same doctor who treated Markham for her minor injuries had treated Mollison for his.) 6

Beryl Markham’s Vega Gull
which successfully landed in America!
And then tipped nose first into a Nova Scotia peat bog.
1936

Her flight made international headlines, she was celebrated in New York City with a ticker tape parade, and received congratulations from all over the world—including a telegram from Jim Mollison1 that read ‘Thank God you saved my watch.’

In West With the Night, Beryl Markham tells her own story.

And it’s a really good story.

Did you read Beryl Markham’s book? …
She has written so well, and marvelously well,
that I was completely ashamed of myself as a writer…
This girl can write rings around all of

us who consider ourselves as writers.
The only parts of it that I know

about personally…are absolutely true.
So you have to take as truth the early stuff
about when she was a child, which is absolutely superb…
I wish you would get it and read it.
It is really a bloody wonderful book.

– Ernest Hemingway
in a letter to his editor Max Perkins

It was until years later, after I’d read and re-read her book,
after I’d given it to a half a dozen nieces (at least),
that I finally got around to reading a biography of Beryl Markham.2

Actually, no.
No, what first clued me into the idea that there might be more to the Beryl Markham story was when I went to hear Paula McLain speak at the Tucson Festival of Books in 2016.
I had read A Paris Wife (McLain’s wonderful book about Hadley Hemingway)
and I assumed she’d talk about that.

Instead she announced that her new book was about Beryl Markham.3
I almost leapt out of my chair.
‘I know all about Markham—I’ve been reading her for years!’ I stage-whispered to the startled-annoyed stranger next to me. Then McLain started talking about Markham’s son and her third husband,
and I said, ‘Beryl Markham got married??’
‘Shush!’ said two people, almost simultaneously.

Here is one example of the chasm that opened up
between Beryl’s own words and the words of her biographer.

Both accounts tell of her father leaving when Beryl was just 17 years old.
Both tell of how he left left Kenya—left Africa, in fact—and moved to South America. Without her.

The difference is this one small fact:
Beryl had gotten married some five months before her father left for Peru.

He accepted a posisiton as a trainer in Peru.
He could hardly have chosen a more distant point on the map..
But to be fair…he must have thought that Beryl was happily
settled in her own household.

– from Straight on till Morning
by
Mary S Lovell

There is a story that [her father] could
not remember her exact age…
When she married…she was still only sixteen,
and roughly half the age of her bridegroom.
The marriage certificate gives her age as eighteen and this
was witnessed by her father…

– from Straight on till Morning
by
Mary S Lovell

We sat for an hour in his little study and
he spoke to me more seriously
than he ever had done before… He was going to Peru.
…He wanted me to come, but the choice was mine;
at seventeen years and several months, I was not a child.
I could think; I could act with reason.

– from West With the Night
by
Beryl Markham

So, yes, it turns out Beryl Markham was married three times, and never for long.
And yes, her autobiography makes no mention of her child or any husbands.

Her attitude toward monogamy seems to me similar to her attitude toward shoes.
She was happy to try on anything pretty and she enjoyed a bit of
positive attention for a while, but it wasn’t what she was used to.
And before long she’d be running off barefoot to who knows where.

But which is the truer account? Looking at her life as a whole—
or even just the chunk of time her teen years into young adulthood—
I think I have to stick with Markham’s account.

Let’s say a time-lapse camera were to capture all her young years into one photograph.
In it, her father would be unmissable—protective, distracted, teaching her, ignoring her,
a consistently-inconsistent oversized presence in her life.
Her first husband’s brief appearance may not register at all, other than in the damage he left behind.

When I read Beryl Markham’s book, I took her at her word.
I recommend you do, too.

Happy 118th Birthday
** Beryl Markham **

– born October 26, 1902
in Ashwell, England

.


Linger Awhile:

I’ve been thinking this week about in-between-ness.

Three hundred and fifty miles
can be no distance in a plane, or it
can be from where you are to the end of the earth…
It depends on the darkness
and the height of the clouds,
the speed of the wind, the stars,
the fullness of the moon.


It depends on you, if you fly alone—
not only on your ability to steer your
course or keep your altitude, but upon the things that
live in your mind while you swing
suspended between the earth and the silent sky.

– from West With the Night
by
Beryl Markham

Not only was Beryl Markham alone when she flew
‘suspended between the earth and the silent sky,’
but she was alone in her ability to move between the worlds around her.
Between the social worlds of her European neighbors and her African neighbors.
Between the societies she found in Kenya and those she found in England.

Her biographer Mary S Lovell talks about her ability to ‘merge into London society’
with ‘her cultured manners and accent, her pleasantly high…speaking voice.’
But she also had a ‘zest for life,’ an instinct for survival,
and an almost total disregard for other people’s time and possessions that tended to
set her apart from others.1

Growing up, Markham spent a lot of time with her neighbors in the Kipsigi village. What set her apart there, much more than her skin color, was her habit of crossing the gender line. She spent years doing and learning everything her best friend Kibii did: playing games, attending dances, and going out on hunts with the adult males.2

Jebbta had brought the gourds
for arapMaina, for arapKoky, and for me.
But she looked only at me.

“Where do you find the strength and

the daring to hunt with them, my sister?

We were as young as each other, Jebbta and I…
I looked down at the ankle-length skins Jebbta wore,
which rustled like taffeta when she moved,
and she looked at my khaki shorts and
lanky, naked legs.


Your body is like mine,’ she said;
‘it is the same and it is no stronger.


She turned,
avoiding the men with her eyes…
and went quickly away.

– from West With the Night
by
Beryl Markham

There is a recent term that could describe Beryl Markham:
Third Culture Kid.

Here’s how my daughter describes this term:

A third culture kid is someone who grew up
in a different culture than their parents.
They are the intersection of their parents culture

and their host culture.
The third culture refers to the mixing that

exists in their mind and experience.
This can happen to immigrants, expatriates,
and military kids among others.
I first heard the term Third Culture Kid

on a Tiktok video by Chef Jon Kung. 7

My dad’s job had me living
in three different states in the USA

and New Zealand as a kid,
which is why I relate to this experience.


It is said that third culture kids
have an increased sense of

empathy because of our expanded world view,
higher self awareness because we have to

actively try to fit in each new place, and are
often more open minded than our peers.


Beryl Markham was at home with the African adults who raised her
and the African children who were her playmates.

She was also at home with the Europeans who were friends of her father.
She was at home with the wild animals surrounding her home
and at home with the racehorses she raised and trained and rode and loved.

She belong to all of these worlds—yet stood out in all of them, as well.

The earth is no more your planet
than is a distant star—if a star is shining;
the plane is your planet
and you are its sole inhabitant.

– from West With the Night
by
Beryl Markham

A feeling of being ‘the sole inhabitant of your own planet’ as Beryl Markham wrote, must often be difficult.  Yet those with this expanded, more world-wide view will, from time to time, kindly drop messenger bags to those of us who are more earth-bound and sometimes lost. 

I feel very grateful for the chance read those messages.

But the soul of Africa,
its integrity,

the slow inexorable pulse of its life,
is its own
and of such singular rhythm that no outsider,
unless steeped from childhood in its endless, even beat,
can ever hope to experience it, except only as a bystander…

– from West With the Night
by
Beryl Markham

.


“Half Cup More”

I took a trip to Africa.

I spent 3 long weeks traveling a not-so-very-long distance
around the Cape in South Africa
between Thanksgiving and Christmas in 2015.

The trip came at the end of a semester-long sabbatical which Prof B spent with research colleagues in The Netherlands. Afterwards he was invited to South Africa to a workshop at a university in Cape Town.
We spent a week in Cape Town, then had two weeks to play tourist before flying home.

I took on the job of creating an itinerary and had the odd experience of sitting in our wintery flat in Utrecht, Netherlands trying to plan out a two-week tour around South Africa in full summer—a place I not only had never been, but could hardly envision.

As I was researching options, I decided three things right away.
One
, the coast would be hot enough in December. We could keep the northern, and warmer, parts of the country for a future trip. (Hard to give up the chance to see lions and giraffes of the spectacular Kruger Park, but it was even harder to complain about the chance to ‘only’ see the zebras, penguins, monkeys, elephants, flamingos, and water buffalo we’d almost surely find even by staying in the south.)

Two, in general B & I tend to travel slower and want to see more of fewer places. No reason to break that trying to put in too many miles. Yet there was a zebra park I wanted us to reach if we could.

Three, even if we rented our car in Cape Town, we wouldn’t need to drive the full round trip. We could return the rental car at another city and get a short flight back to Cape Town.

Eventually I decided on 6 stopovers.
Each one less than a 3½-hour drive from the next
and we could stay one full day and 2 nights in each place.

Stony Point Penguin Colony
(photo by me)

First stopover: Hemanus—
right on the Atlantic Ocean, where we could see whales spouting from our hotel room.
On the way we stopped to see (and hear!) thousands of African penguins who were spending their molting season at Stony Point Penguin Colony.
There was a wooden walkway around the penguins—and over them! as I found when I happened to glimpse down between two boards and saw a bright bird’s eye looking back up at me.

Flamingos near the Rooisand Birdhide
(photo by Prof B)



While in staying in Hermanus, we also visited the Rooisand Nature Reserve where we saw flamingos, grey herons, and, through field glass, watched a small herd of wild horses—the descendants of horses abandoned by British troops at the end of the Boer War in 1902.

Kassiesbaai Fishing Village
near Arniston
(photo by me)

Second stopover: Arniston—
staying in a thatched-roof room with a view of dunes and the sea.
While staying in Arniston we visited the lighthouse at L’Agulhas, where two oceans meet.

Me at L’Agulhas
the southern-most tip of the continent of Africa
where the Atlantic Ocean and the Indian Ocean meet
(photo by Prof B)

Third stopover: Wilderness—
staying in an upstairs flat over the Serpentine River winding through a sea of grasses.
We took a long drive through Bontebok Nature Reserve and saw a large herd of bontebok, three hartebeests, and a secretary bird—with feathers on it’s head like pens tucked behind a secretary’s ear.



We hiked the Brown-Hooded Kingfisher Trail without seeing a kingfisher,
but did catch a glimpse of a pair of Knysa Turaco Louries—flashes of red wing and a green-crested head.

Brown-Hooded Kingfisher Trail
(photo by Prof B)

.



Fourth stopover: Storms River—
where our room was surrounded by a lovely garden and signs warned us: ‘Don’t feed the baboons.’

.


We hiked through the lush green Tsitsikamma National Park with views of the Indian Ocean.

Tsitsikamma National Park
(photo by me)

.

Fifth stopover: Addo—
where we stayed in a rustic cabin on an organic citrus farm.
This was the highlight of the whole trip: Addo Elephant National Park.
It’s the only time in Africa we took a guided tour, which was great. The van driver’s name was Freedom and I learned a lot from him. Not the least of which was this idea: In this dry place, an empty watering hole rarely stays that way.

.


Later, back in the rental car, we found a watering hole that did seem unoccupied. As we watched, an elephant herd approached and a dozen birds and warthogs came running and flying out.

A popular watering hole
Addo Elephant National Park
(photo by Prof B)

Sixth stopover: Craddock—
near the amazing Mountain Zebra National Park.


It was here we saw the greatest diversity of animals: several herds of zebras, vervet monkeys, black wildebeest, baboon troops, and black-backed jackals.

Beware of Lions
‘Alight from vehicle at own risk’

.

At the gate where we drove in, the rangers gave us an ‘Animal Sightings List’ which was a very handy picture-guide. From it, we learned the names of the seven kinds of antelope that we saw: steenbok, springbok, blesbok, gemsbok, red hartebeest, eland, and kudu. They warned us not to wander too far from our car, as there may be lions. (Sadly, we never saw any lions.) They also warned us not to be late leaving because the park gates locked at 7pm. This proved nerve-wracking when that closing time got closer and we found the road ahead of us flanked by three cape buffalo of unknown temperament. (They kept a close eye on us as we crept past.)

From Craddock we drove to Port Elizabeth, turned in the rental car, and flew back to Cape Town. We spent one night at the ‘greenest hotel in Africa.’
(They provided us with this information: CO2 Offset Purchased = 22.01 Kg CO2-e // Total Tonnage: 10000 Tns COs-e)

From there, we started the long flights home to Tucson.

.

.


Take-Away Box

I can’t remember her name any more,
but the little freighter I sailed on,
from Australia to South Africa,
appeared not to move for nearly a month,
and during the voyage I sat on the deck and read books,
or thought about past things,
or talked with the few other dwellers in our bobbing cloister.
I was going back to Africa.

Like all oceans,

the Indian Ocean seems never to end,
and the ships that sail on it are small and slow.
They have no speed, nor any sense of urgency;
they do not cross the water,
they live on it until the land comes home.

And so the little freighter sat upon the sea,
and, though Africa came closer day by day,
the freighter never moved.
She was old and weather-weary,
and she had learned to let the world
come round to her.

Beryl Markham

.


Thank you for reading!
Kelly J Hardesty

Thoughts? Questions?
Scroll down to the endand you can leave me a note!
Always so lovely to hear from you.
.

You Can Read More…

notes & footnotes
———————————

1.
Straight on till Morning
by
Mary S Lovell
2011

2.
West With the Night
by
Beryl Markham
1942

3.
My hero: Beryl Markham

by Paula McLain
The Guardian
22 August 2015
https://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/aug/22/my-hero-beryl-markham-by-paula-mclain

4.
The Remarkable Mrs. Markham
by
Derek O’Connor
Aviation History Magazine
November 2017
https://www.historynet.com/remarkable-mrs-markham.htm

5.
In her autobiography,
Beryl Markham
writes that she got the idea for
scouting by air for herds of elephants from
Denys Fitch Hatton just before he died.
She also says that she often did
this kind scouting work for Bror Blixen.
These are two men who also show up in the book
Out of Africa, written by Isak Dinsen.

Isak and Beryl were friends and neighbors.
When Beryl married her second husband,
Isak gave her the flowers for her bridal bouquet—
and then lent the couple her home as a honeymoon get-away spot.

But Beryl and Isak did not stay friends.
Both women wrote memoirs about life in the same place,
during the same time period,
and about many of the same people.
Neither mentioned each other’s name in their books.

6.
In 1936, after Beryl Markham crash landing in Nova Scotia,
it was fisherman William Burke who first reached her plane,
just as Markham was struggling out of knee-deep mud.
They shook hands and the exhausted flier
asked two questions:
“Do you have a cigarette?”
and “Where am I?”

Burke’s neighbour had a phone;
Markham asked the operator in nearby Louisbourg to
contact the Sydney airport, so no one would launch a search.
The operator alerted Sydney doctor Freeman O’Neil,
and merchant George Lewis, who drove to Baleine and
brought Markham to Lewis’ Louisbourg hom


She sipped a cup of tea
as the doctor tended to the gash in her forehead.
By a remarkable coincidence, Dr. O’Neil
had patched up Jim Mollison after he’d crash-landed

in a field near Sydney in 1932.
Hearing this,
“she sort of felt, ‘well, I’m among friends,’”
says Harvey Lewis, George’s son.

Markham borrowed a pair of George’s pyjamas
and retired to their spare room to sleep.


– from Flight of Fancy
by Dean Jobb
in SaltScapes
celebrating the culture, values and rewards of living on Canada’s East Coast

funded by the Government of Canada
https://www.saltscapes.com/roots-folks/2191-flight-of-fancy.html

7.
Here is Tiktok user Chef John Kung on the idea of Third Culture Kids.
https://www.tiktok.com/@chefjonkung/video/6870912734473571590?lang=en

STT-56

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© Kelly J Hardesty 2022

1 thought on “Aviatrix”

  1. You introduced me to Beryl Markham some years ago. I first read Circling the Sun by Paula McLain and then West of the Night. Wonderful stuff!

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