||The Last Launch: Messages in the Bottle
by Yi-Fu Tuan
The last book by one of the world's most decorated geographers!
Yi-Fu Tuan has spent a lifetime as a writer, teacher, and scholar exploring the relationship between the places and spaces that surround us and the inner self. In particular, he has shown, in his twenty-two previous books, what it means to achieve human dignity within the varied communities we create.
Although we humans, by nature, may be flawed, as evidenced by war and injustice and environmental destruction, Professor Tuan affirms that all of us, by virtue of our remarkable senses and even more remarkable minds, are able to savor the wonders of our earthly home, as no other species can. Moreover, we humans are, by nature, moral beings. For this reason, we find true fulfillment and ultimate happiness by doing good, an emptying of the self in service to others that, paradoxically, enriches and extends the self as few other ways can.
In The Last Launch, Professor Tuan's final book, we are given his views on a vast and complicated array of topics that would seem to require volumes to explore. Yet his essays, expressed straightforwardly, also have their place in conveying big ideas—especially to the often impatient yet deeply curious young at heart, whatever their age. And it is to them that these unforgettable messages in the bottle, tossed hopefully into the sea, are addressed. Who knows what hearts and minds they may stir to life?
"I was in Panama in 1959 studying the coastline. I needed to go to a sandbar separated from the mainland by a stretch of mangrove swamp. I waited for the tide to withdraw, so I could walk across. Hours later, having competed my survey of the sandbar, I packed my notebooks, camera, and compass for the return trip.
"To my surprise, I was confronted by an unfamiliar landscape. A rising tide had covered the swamp in one-to-two feet of water, and I would have to wade through the water and mud to get back to solid land.
"As I reluctantly prepared myself to take on the tide, a young fisherman approached, pushing an old bike. On its handlebar was a row of fish, which he no doubt intended to sell on the mainland. He spoke a language I didn't understand. His gestures, however, made it clear that he wanted me to sit on his bike so that he could push me through the swamp.
"He had to push hard. I could see his strained muscles and smell his sweat. As soon as we reached dry land, I got off the bike and dug into my wallet for a few dollars to give him. I looked through the sheaf of bills to find the right amount. When I turned around, he was nowhere to be seen. I have never forgotten his kindness. He was doing good."
—Yi-Fu Tuan, from is chapter "Encounters with Goodness"