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Book Chronicles Md. Couple’s Travels Across Globe

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By E. B. FURGURSON III

The Capital of Annapolis

SHADY SIDE, Md. (AP) — “The most satisfying journey is one that is shared.”

That quote introduces and is the point behind a coffee table book of photographs from around the globe put together by the family of the late Tom Abercrombie, one of the last swashbuckling, globe-trotting writer-photographers at National Geographic.

It’s the visual story of Tom and Lynn Abercrombie of Shady Side and their nearly 40 years of traveling, a memoir they started together before he died of complications of surgery in 2006.

Lynn Abercrombie, who shared most of his travels and became a National Geographic photographer herself, worked with their two children to select from thousands of photographs to finish and publish the book, “Traveling the World for National Geographic.”

Together, the Stillwater, Minn., high school sweethearts produced roughly 150,000 images.

“This is really a love story,” their son Bruce Abercrombie said of the book, which shows and tells the story of the couple’s four decades of globe-trotting for “the Geographic.”

Their adventures included scaling the Matterhorn and the Himalayas, voyaging to Fiji, the Baltic countries and Easter Island, and tete-a-tetes with Saudi kings, Bedouin chieftains, Anwar Sadat and an emerging Palestinian figure named Yasser Arafat.

Tom Abercrombie was one of the first two journalists to reach the South Pole and the first to photograph the Hajj, the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca.

Along the way he became Geographic’s expert in the Middle East, filing stories from Afghanistan to the Sahara and most spots in between.

A panel amid the dozen or so opening photographs lays out the direction Tom Abercrombie set for himself, and later Lynn, in their book.

“This is a story, a picture story of two very lucky people before whom was spread out the greatest of treasures, the planet Earth. We traveled aboard a magic carpet, the one with the yellow borders, National Geographic magazine.

“You hold in your hand a sort of family album. Geographic was witness to a century, arguably the most telling in human history, and we spent nearly half of it here with them. . These of course are only glimpses.”

It was indeed a family effort. On some expeditions the couple would bring along their then-young kids, Mari and Bruce. One of these trips was the cruise to Fiji, for a story never published in the magazine, but shared in the book.

There are scores of previously unpublished photos among the 300 images in the book. About 100 were published from the pages of Geographic — with permission, of course.

But the rest were selected from thousands and thousands of images, Kodachrome slides mostly, that the couple kept from their expeditions.

“We were able to get great scans from those slides,” daughter Mari said. “Many of the top pictures are included, but we added hundreds more.”

Lynn and Tom Abercrombie began the project years ago.

“We started together and Tom did all of the writing,” Lynn Abercrombie said in the back room of the family’s home. While cozy, it is a veritable museum, loaded with trinkets and artifacts from around the globe: African leather pouches, pottery, figurines, books, tapestries, a blow gun and a shrunken head.

And Lynn likely knows the story behind every item — the information could be a book in itself.

The stories, presented from country to country, were woven from the threads of Geographic articles, memory and Tom’s notes, all telling the story behind the story.

“It is not everything, but it is what we considered the best,” she said. “It is really a book of stories, it is really a history of a world that no longer exists,” Lynn said. “Geographic has changed completely. They don’t send people off like they once did.”

And most of the corners of the world seen through their lenses has been altered by history as well, like the Bamian Monolith carved into the stone of an Afghani mountain. It was later blown up by the Taliban.

The book bring one along on journeys across Himalayan peaks, underwater with Jacques Cousteau, into the then-mysterious Middle East, through the jungles of Venezuela, and to the most desolate corner of Saudi Arabia to discover a meteorite.

And there are tales of derring-do — stunts Tom admitted to his wife in later years were a bit crazy.

He almost died falling off a yak in one the high trails in the far eastern panhandle of Afghanistan, or tumbling from a cable car hundreds of feet above the Venezuelan jungle.

And Lynn shared some of the close calls, too.

Like the time a Murrah Bedouin sheik offered 35 camels to Tom for “his woman,” as they sat in the desert nomad’s black goat hair tent. He made a counter offer of 50 and the matter faded among the laughter of the men and boys gathered around.

Lynn was not amused.

Nevertheless it was a wonderful life together, and the book just scratches the surface.

Daughter Mari said there are enough slides and notebooks full of details to publish a separate book on each country, but the Abercrombies are gearing up to sell this shared adventure first.

The book will be available at a book signing at the Shady Side Rural Heritage Society Friday evening, and will be the subject of a lecture and exhibit at Annapolis City Hall next month.

Information from: The Capital of Annapolis, Md., http://www.hometownannapolis.com/

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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