Armchair adventuring isn’t usually my cuppa tea. I picked this book up in part because of its subtitle, “A Spiritual Odyssey in the Arctic.”
The book is written by a man who convinces his long-suffering wife Diana that they should live on a boat, and then that the boat should be sailed to the northernmost point possible on the planet so they can live there for a year.
Polar bears are a big feature in the book, mostly how to detect and escape from them. The Simons pick up a kitten as they sail north, naming her Halifax. She becomes a bear detector, companion in the darkness, comic relief, and star attraction for the Inuit who visit the crazy people with the boat wedged in the ice.
That’s the thing about going to the Arctic: getting out again is hard. There are several passages about how the boat suddenly bucks and plunges and ice pieces like killer knives suddenly appear on deck, etc. Also, polar bears.
Diana has to leave in the middle of the winter because her father is dying; kind people come get her because, see above, getting out is hard. And she wasn’t an emergency in the technical sense.
During the year, Simon comes to recognize how much being alone makes you aware of your inner resources, not just surviving, but maintaining sanity. Who are you when no one is looking, literally? The book dealt with that in some aspects, although in true author-to-the-most-people fashion, he leaves how that resolves into affiliational loyalty ambiguous at the end.
There’s a gyrfalcon story that could be considered heartbreaking advocacy, but my favorite was wee Halifax running off an Arctic Fox, and charming an Inuit elder.
Perhaps the most powerful thing about this book is, it made me interested in their journey, even though I never want to go on one similar myself. It is easy for an author to entice people with similar interests to keep reading. I kept reading even though I was halfway to horrified at how strange and different and hard to understand some of their experiences–and even motivations–were. He’s good at making you see what he sees.
Pour yourself a warm beverage, sit back, and watch Halifax romp and the birds fly. And look out for polar bears.