Saturday, April 07, 2007

Call of the Wild

I suppose I have a fascination with "The North" the same way some people are fascinated with "The West."

Growing up on a relatively isolated farm I learned to love ponds and swamps, trees and groundhogs, not to mention storms sweeping across the fields in either winter or summer. It was "wilderness in miniature," just big enough for a child to get lost in.

Here in Ontario we're blessed with the Niagara Escarpment. When I was very young my father would take me on trips to Mount Nemo, where we'd hike pieces of the Bruce Trail and explore the smaller caves. Later I made a few wonderful trips up to Cypress Lake -- the furthest north I've ever been, and by far the most rugged and unforgiving landscape I've seen for myself.

But this is all small potatoes. In reality I want to see the unspoiled, virtually unreachable places...the land of moose and bush pilots. The problem is that you can't simply get in a car and drive to those places. If you're going to actually get out and EXPLORE, you need to endure the hardships that come with such places. And though I've got pretty good endurance I don't think I'm up to the task.

So instead I find myself reading about OTHER people doing the hard work. Right now I'm working on "This Was the North" by Anton Money. It's the true story of the seven years he spent in Alaska, British Columbia, and the Yukon. In 1923 the land was still largely unsettled and partially unexplored. Money arrived from Britain as a "Greenhorn" and fell totally in love with the landscape, frequently referring to it as "Eden."

The book is beautiful, written in a plain and descriptive style, and Money perfectly conveys the majesty of the countryside. He tells you about the lives of the Hudson Bay traders, the Indian trappers and the ubiquitous gold hunters. He describes in minute and fascinating detail how they built their houses and roads, their boats and "high caches." He also provides pictures of the people and places he describes, taken by him in the 1920s.

So far they've reached Frances Lake, and he and his friend are of the first few Europeans to survive the trip there. I wish I could be at the lake with them...but I'd settle for another weekend in Northern Ontario!

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