mother nature goes
on the offensive
--From the chapter "The Sharp Sting of Paradise," on predators:
The world's deadliest animals are snakes, which kill over 100,000 people annually, followed by crocodiles (960 human deaths), and tigers (740). The much-feared shark falls far down the list -- only about seven victims annually worldwide -- making it a lightweight compared to the ostrich, which when cornered can kick viciously with hammerlike feet and sharp talons and kills some 14 people every year. As for the ferocious grizzly bear, it ranks about the same as mustelids (weasels, skunks, and the like), which kill an average of four humans a year, primarily pet ferrets attacking unattended babies.
--From the chapter "A River of One's Own," on drowning:
Your blood, normally a rich, oxygenated red, is turning blue. Dimly, you feel your arms and legs burn from the buildup of lactic acid caused by oxygen deprivation. Your head breaks the surface of the water and you let out a great sigh of carbon dioxide. Just as you start to take a breath, the river pulls you back under. You gag, your larynx in spasms as it reflexively closes to keep water out of your lungs.
--From the chapter "The Cold Hug of the White Sphinx," on avalanches:
A famous yogi in India would have made a good candidate for surviving an avalanche. Known as the "burying yogi," he routinely spent days at a time in an underground box. In 1973, a team of American biofeedback researchers traveled to India and constructed a three-by-five-foot box that was so airtight that a candle placed inside extinguished itself after one and a half hours. As the yogi climbed in and assumed the lotus position, the researchers noticed a dramatic drop in his heart and breathing rates. He remained in the box for eight hours before complaining of electrical shocks caused by the sensors monitoring his vital functions.
--From the chapter "Pitched from the Vertical Realm," on falling:
You notice something -- a stick, it looks like -- protruding from the stretchy nylon of your climbing pants. You look more closely. It's your right femur, shattered in an open fracture. Oddly, it doesn't hurt -- not much, or rather, not yet. Your body blocks the pain by plugging the nerve endings with endorphins. You feel a dull ache in your trunk. When you hit the ledge, you not only broke the ninth through twelfth ribs on your left side, but you split open your spleen, the fist-sized organ that filters blood. Your blood supply is now slowly leaking into your abdominal cavity.
--From the chapter "As Freezing Persons Recollect the Snow," on hypothermia:
Rewarming the victim is one of the most hazardous aspects of hypothermia. The cold-constricted capillaries can open all at once, causing a sudden drop in blood pressure. The heart, still cold, can lapse into deadly spasms. In 1980, a crew of shipwrecked Danish fishermen were hauled to safety after spending an hour and a half in the frigid North Sea. They stepped below deck for a hot drink, and dropped dead, all 16 of them.
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