Monday, September 13, 2010

Off You Go

So I spent this last weekend as a volunteer helping out at the 90 miler. And that got me to thinking about some of the books I’ve read over the years that deal with canoeing. I have guidebooks of course, and I’ve also read different repair manuals for watercraft that have been involved in some unfortunate events. But what I was thinking about was some of the books I’ve read that got me into the canoe and onto the water in the first place. Books that made me want to pick up a paddle and head off into the unknown. And even if I had a map it was still unknown to me.

The first book I’m going to tell you about I read in, I think, fourth or fifth grade. It’s now titled Two Against the North; the original title is Lost in the Barrens and was written by Farley Mowat. This book didn’t just capture my imagination. It grabbed me by the scruff of my neck, spun me around the neighborhood twelve or thirteen times and then sent me streaming through time and space at a blinding speed. I really liked it. It was a use the flashlight under the covers after you’ve been told to go to bed read for me. I also think that this particular book set the stage for all of the wilderness, trekking, canoeing, climbing, travel through the woods and general love of the North Woods and Far Northern Places type of reading that I still continue with to this day.

The other two books are related to each other. The first is called The Lure of the Labrador Wild by Dillon Wallace (which by the way is available for free when downloaded to a Kindle) and the second is Great Heart: The History of a Labrador Adventure by James West Davidson and John Rugge. Now, an interesting aspect to both books is that the first book is the tale of an adventure written by a survivor. The second book is the story of the widow of the dead adventurer as she takes up the task of completing the trek that her husband perished on. Did I forget to mention that these events occurred at the turn of the last century? That’s correct, these adventurers set out to travel through and write about the then uncharted areas of the Ungava-Labrador Peninsula in Canada in 1903!

Now all three of these books have at different times in my life captured and fired my imagination. The stories are all very compelling. They all deal with struggles against nature and the bonds formed through hardship. But more importantly the books also deal with the inner struggles of the individuals and the attempt of the writers to make clear for themselves exactly why they have taken up their treks in the first place. Just as the different northern lakes and rivers flow through landscapes and time so do the authors. They are on a journey both physically and metaphorically and in each case you get to go on that journey with them. Now, these three books are not the only stories I’ve ever read on this subject. But I do consider these three to be among the very best books I’ve ever read on this subject.

I’ve spent thousands of hours in boats. I never get tired of it and I expect I’ll continue to float around for decades to come. And I do believe that it was reading about traveling by paddle over northern waters that lead me to my lifelong enjoyment and to my standing around on a bobbing boat offering water and candy to competitors as they paddled by. And it made me think. When the paddlers said “thanks” they were talking to me, but I was only partially there. I was thinking about the books I had read; and how those books had set me on the journey of being out on this particular boat, in raingear with a hat and gloves, on an early fall day in the Adirondacks.

See you at the Library,

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