Thursday, July 31, 2008

B.C. Almanac

Monday afternoon, Mark Forsythe, the host of B.C. Almanac on CBC Radio, had me on his show to talk about Fatal Tide and the issues around risk, reward and outdoor adventure. It was great to chat with such a radio pro as Mark, who had read my book and was able to draw the story and opinions out of me with a clear line of questioning, and engage his phone-in listeners (all of them guys, curiously) in the debate, too.

If you have RealPlayer on your computer, you can listen to the interview for a couple days longer right here. (It's about halfway in, after the mayor of Williams Lake complaining about a street person.)

My wife likes to joke that I must feel guilty every time I go on CBC Radio (this is my fourth interview, for stations across the country) because I often complain when she has it playing in the house. (I can't read or write with talk radio in the background, and we also own the world's tinniest-sounding kitchen radio.) It's true: CBC (and radio in general) has been very generous in supporting my book.

Given how paltry (and poor-paying) the book review sections (where they still exist) of major newspapers have become, I don't know what Canadian writers would do without their radio fix. That has been one of the loudest lessons I've learned from my first four months as a novice nonfiction novelist.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Arctic Reads

The toughest part about any backpacking trip is deciding on that single paperback you can justify wedging into your already all-too-heavy pack. What if it sucks, and you're tent-bound for days with nothing worth reading except the washing instructions on your Gore-Tex jacket?

On my trip into Auyuittuq National Park and up past the Arctic Circle, I managed to pack the perfect literary match for the land we traveled through. Granted, it didn't take a lot of head-scratching on my part. A cheap paperback copy of Barry Lopez's well-known Arctic Dreams: Imagination and Desire in a Northern Landscape had been sitting on my bookshelf for a couple years now, unread despite the other essays by the author that I'd enjoyed (and even taught), mostly because the book's subject seemed so distant (figuratively and geographically) from my own immediate concerns (could it teach me how to change a diaper? grade a paper?).

Now I had no excuse. But would it live up to its reputation?

It did and then some. What a wonderful marriage of science and travelogue, of memoir and poetry, of the history of exploration and the anguish of exploitation. What a glimpse into the lives of the Inuit who have lived in the region for four millennia and the strange, ethereal creatures who have stalked the Arctic's desert plains and unfathomed waters for even longer.

There are so many memorable passages:
This is a land where airplanes track icebergs the size of Cleveland and polar bears fly down out of the stars. It is a region, like the desert, rich with metaphor, with adumbration.
If we are to devise an enlightened plan for human activity in the Arctic, we need a more particularized understanding of the land itself—not a more refined mathematical knowledge but a deeper understanding of its nature, as if it were, itself, another sort of civilization we had to reach some agreement with.
Lying flat on your back on Ellesmere Island on rolling tundra without animals, without human trace, you can feel the silence stretching all the way to Asia. The winter face of a muskox, its unperturbed eye glistening in the halo of a snow-crusted hair, looks at you over a cataract of time, an image that has endured through all the pulsations of ice.

You can sit for a long time with the history of man like a stone in your hand. The stillness, the pure light, encourage it.
Lying flat on your back in a tent, amid the endless light of the Arctic summer, reading Barry Lopez can inspire a similar (if less eloquent) state of contemplation even in a trail-worn, toxic-smelling, slightly over-the-hill trekker. I couldn't imagine a better guide to lead me through that landscape and back again.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Back From Baffin

I'm back from two weeks on Baffin Island (and my longest email quarantine since the dawn of the felt surprisingly refreshing!) and am now spending a week with family in Toronto.

Auyuittuq National Park was spectacular: a wild river valley surrounded by glaciers and moraines and a massive ice cap the size of PEI. I intend to blog more about our trekking trip through the pass and the fascinating people we met along the way, but for now (as I pay off my paternal karmic debt for two weeks away from diaper duty), I'll have to leave off instead with this photo of Summit Lake (taken by Photo Solution editor Xavier Bonacorsi) from a ridge near Tyr Peak, with our campsite far, far below. It was tough slogging some days, but I miss it already.

P.S., For anyone in Toronto, this Monday, I'll be reading from Fatal Tide at the Harbord House pub at 7:00 pm.