Canoeing Books: Old & New

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Some Winter Reading

Portage: A Family, a Canoe, & the Search for the Good Life

CanoeBookPortageSueLeaf

When as a child she first saw a canoe gliding on Lake Alexander in central Minnesota, Sue Leaf was mesmerized. The enchantment stayed with her and shimmers throughout this book as we join Leaf and her family in canoeing the waterways of North America, always on the lookout for the good life amid the splendors and surprises of the natural world.

The journey begins with a trip to the border lakes of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, then wanders into the many beautiful little rivers of Minnesota and Wisconsin, the provincial parks of Canada, the Louisiana bayou, and the arid West. A biologist and birder, Leaf considers natural history and geology, noticing which plants are growing along the water and which birds are flitting among the branches. Traveling the routes of the Ojibwe, voyageurs, and map-making explorers, she reflects on the region’s history, peopling her pages with Lewis and Clark, Jean Lafitte, Henry Schoolcraft, and Canada’s Group of Seven artists. Part travelogue, part natural and cultural history,Portage is the memoir of one family’s thirty-five-year venture into the watery expanse of the world. Through sunny days and stormy hours and a few hair-raising moments, Sue and her husband, Tom, celebrate anniversaries on the water; haul their four kids along on family adventures; and occasionally make the paddle a social outing with friends. Along the way they contend with their own human nature: they run rapids when it would have been wiser to portage, take portages and learn truths about aging, avoid portages and ponder risk-taking. Through it all, out in the open, in the wild, in the blue, exploring the river means encountering life?good decisions and missed chances, risks and surprises, and the inevitable changes that occur as a family canoes through time and learns what it means to be human in this natural world.

Portage, by Sue Leaf

That Summer on the Nahanni 1928

CanoeBookTahtSummerFenleyHunter

Consisting of the field notes of Fenley Hunter, a New York-based businessman with a penchant for Canada’s North. Only 50 copies of Hunter’s original 1923 journal documenting a trip to Dease Lake in northern British Columbia were printed. A similar print run was made from his 1928 expedition, which started in northern Alberta and ended in Fort Simpson, in Canada’s Northwest Territories. McGahern Stewart’s volume presents both journals, as well as Hunter’s sketch maps. Perhaps the most intriguing element of Hunter’s 1928 journey, at least from a modern standpoint, is a five-week side trip he made up the Liard and South Nahanni rivers.

Today, the South Nahanni River tops the bucket list of many canoeists. In Hunter’s time, the river’s deep canyons were thought to contain lodes of gold. In 1908, the headless corpses of prospectors Willie and Frank McLeod were found on the river’s banks, inspiring stories of lost mines. Hardscrabble prospector Albert Faille was but one captivated by the region’s mystique; British ex-pat R.M. Patterson was another. Patterson and Hunter met one another on parallel Nahanni explorations in the summer of 1928.

Hunter’s journals detail his quest to survey the Nahanni’s centerpiece waterfall—and to name it after his 16-year-old daughter, Virginia. Editor Stewart notes his journal has “the ingredients of a classic wilderness tale. There is a quest. There is much arduous travel. In time, there is impatience to get out of the country… There is character development.” I agree with Stewart assertion that “Hunter writes evocatively about many parts of the trip.”

That Summer on the Nahanni, 1928, by Fenley Hunter

The Dangerous River

CanoeBookDangerousRiverRMPattersonWritten with R. M. Patterson’s characteristic sharp wit and observation, this classic tale chronicles the year he spent battling frigid temperatures and wild waters along the Nahanni River in Canada’s Northwest Territories. Patterson originally travelled to the North with hopes of finding gold, and clues to the mysterious disappearance of earlier prospectors. Instead, he fell in love with the landscape, and through his meticulously recorded journals and hauntingly beautiful photographs he introduced the now-famous Nahanni River to the world. Patterson’s bestselling first book is now back in print and ready to take readers down the treacherous and challenging waters of the Nahanni River once again.

The Dangerous River, by R.M.Patterson

Canoe Country

CanoeBookCanoeCountryRoyMcGregorOne of our favourite chroniclers of all things Canadian presents a rollicking, personal, photo-filled history of the relationship between a country and its canoes.

From the earliest explorers on the Columbia River in BC or the Mattawa in Ontario to a doomed expedition of voyageurs up the Nile to rescue Khartoum; from the author’s family roots deep in the Algonquin wilderness to modern families who have canoed across the country (kids and dogs included): Canoe Country is Roy MacGregor’s celebration of the essential and enduring love affair Canadians have with our first and still favourite means of getting around. Famous paddlers have been so enchanted with the canoe that one swore God made Canada as the perfect country in which to paddle it. Drawing on MacGregor’s own decades spent whenever possible with a paddle in his hand, this is a story of high adventure on white water and the sweetest peace in nature’s quietest corners, from the author best able (and most eager) to tell it.

Canoe Country, by Roy MacGregor

Canoeing with the Cree

CanoeBookCanoeingWithTheCreeSevareid

In 1930 two novice paddlers–Eric Sevareid and Walter C. Port–launched a secondhand 18-foot canvas canoe into the Minnesota River at Fort Snelling for an ambitious summer-long journey from Minneapolis to Hudson Bay. Without benefit of radio, motor, or good maps, the teenagers made their way over 2,250 miles of rivers, lakes, and difficult portages. Nearly four months later, after shooting hundreds of sets of rapids and surviving exceedingly bad conditions and even worse advice, the ragged, hungry adventurers arrived in York Factory on Hudson Bay–with winter freeze-up on their heels. First published in 1935, Canoeing with the Cree is Sevareid’s classic account of this youthful odyssey. The newspaper stories that Sevareid wrote on this trip launched his distinguished journalism career, which included more than a decade as a television correspondent and commentator on the CBS Evening News. Now with a new foreword by Arctic explorer, Ann Bancroft.

Canoeing with the Cree, by Eric Sevareid

Canoeing the Congo

CanoeBookCanoeingTheCongoPhilHarwood

An exhilarating and terrifying account of the historic first source-to-sea descent of the Congo

At 2,922 miles, the Congo is the eighth longest river and the deepest in the world, with a flow rate second only to the Amazon. Ex-Marine Phil Harwood embarked on an epic solo journey from the river’s true source in the highlands of Zambia through war-torn Central Africa. With no outside help whatsoever he faced swamps, waterfalls, man-eating crocodiles, hippos, aggressive snakes, and spider webs the size of houses. He collapsed from malaria, and was arrested, intimidated, and chased. On one stretch, known as “The Abattoir” for its history of cannibalism and reputation for criminal activity, the four brothers he hired as bodyguards were asked by locals, “Why haven’t you cut his throat yet?” But he also received tremendous hospitality from proud and brave people long forgotten by the Western world, especially friendly riverside fishermen who helped wherever they could.

Canoeing the Congo, by Phil Harman

The Canoe Boys

CanoeBookTheCanoeBoysAlastairDunnett

The First Epic Scottish Sea Journey by Kayak.

“It’s too late in the year!” they were advised, but they still did it. By canoe from Bowling to Kyle of Lochalsh with numerous stops along the way, Alastair Dunnett and Seamas Adam spent a heady Autumn in the 1934 meandering up the glorious West Coast of Scotland. On their way they sent reports back to the Daily Record informing the readers of their progress and the people they met along the way. Their account makes fascinating reading as they were hailed by onlookers and bystanders wherever they went as ‘The Canoe Boys’. Escapades as varied as running the infamous tide-rush of the Dorus Mhor to a balmy harvest working on Calve Island off Mull, quenching their thirst with a mug of drammach (oats and water) are related in superb, lyrical style by Dunnett. This is an adventure story of youthful exuberance and of how life once was lived before the war changed everything for ever. Fully illustrated with archival material and contemporary press cuttings, this cult travelogue will find a new market among the growing number of adventure kayakers taking to Scotland’s coastal waters.

This new illustrated edition has an introduction by Dunnett’s son, Ninian who has also supplied a full glossary and notes on each chapter.

The Canoe Boys, by Alastair Dunnett

Canoeing the Adirondacks with Nessmuk

CanoeBookCanoeingTheAdirondacksGeorgeSears

The Adirondack Letters of George Washington Sears

Overview – The second, revised edition of a classic, 19th-century work which captures the pleasures of camping and canoeing in the Adirondacks. The letters of George Washington Sears should interest not only the wilderness lover, but also the boater and craftsman who longs to own the perfect canoe.

“She’s all my fancy painted her, she’s lovely, she is light. She waltzes on the waves by day and rests with me at night. But I had nothing to do with her painting. The man who built her did that. And I commence with the canoe because that is about the first thing you need on entering the Northern Wilderness.”

Thus opened Nessmuk’s first commissioned “letter” for Forest and Stream in 1880. For years thereafter, George Washington Sears, under the penname Nessmuk, contributed a glorious series of pieces on canoeing the Adirondacks, exploring rivers and streams, climbing the many mountains and peaks, and chronicling his long relationship with one of the greatest canoe builders, J. Henry Rushton.

Canoeing the Adirondacks with Nessmuck, by George Washington Sears

The Happy Isles of Oceania

CanoeBookHappyIslesPaulTheroux

Paul Theroux invites us to join him on one of his most exotic and tantalizing adventures exploring the coasts and blue lagoons of the Pacific Islands, and taking up residence to discover the secrets of these isles. Theroux is a mesmerizing narrator – brilliant, witty, keenly perceptive as he floats through Gauguin landscapes, sails in the wake of Captain Cook and recalls the bewitching tales of Jack London and Robert Louis Stevenson. Alone in his kayak, paddling to seldom visited shores, he glides through time and space, discovering a world of islands, their remarkable people, and in turn, happiness. ‘A sharp, fascinating and highly entertaining book …Theroux at his best’ – “Daily Telegraph”.

The Happy Isles of Oceania, by Paul Theroux

The River of Doubt

CanoeBookRiverOfDoubtCandiceMillard

At once an incredible adventure narrative and a penetrating biographical portrait, The River of Doubt is the true story of Theodore Roosevelt’s harrowing exploration of one of the most dangerous rivers on earth.

The River of Doubt?it is a black, uncharted tributary of the Amazon that snakes through one of the most treacherous jungles in the world. Indians armed with poison-tipped arrows haunt its shadows; piranhas glide through its waters; boulder-strewn rapids turn the river into a roiling cauldron.

After his humiliating election defeat in 1912, Roosevelt set his sights on the most punishing physical challenge he could find, the first descent of an unmapped, rapids-choked tributary of the Amazon. Together with his son Kermit and Brazil’s most famous explorer, Cândido Mariano da Silva Rondon, Roosevelt accomplished a feat so great that many at the time refused to believe it. In the process, he changed the map of the western hemisphere forever.

Along the way, Roosevelt and his men faced an unbelievable series of hardships, losing their canoes and supplies to punishing whitewater rapids, and enduring starvation, Indian attack, disease, drowning, and a murder within their own ranks. Three men died, and Roosevelt was brought to the brink of suicide. The River of Doubt brings alive these extraordinary events in a powerful nonfiction narrative thriller that happens to feature one of the most famous Americans who ever lived.

The River of Doubt, by Candice Millard

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