Illustration courtesy Michigan State University
Nahanni Journals: 1927-1929 Journals, by Raymond M. Patterson (edited by Richard C. Davis, 2008, Pub. by Univ. of Alberta Press, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, 204pp.)
In his forward, Justin Trudeau writes, “In this rapidly urbanizing civilization, we have lost our balance. Our current environmental crisis stems from the fact that we act as if we are not a part of the world, but somehow outside of it. …Our food comes from supermarkets, our water from taps, and our electricity from power lines. As our weather grows more extreme, we watch from within our comfortable climate-controlled homes and shake our heads, and promise ourselves that we’ll definitely make an effort to try to recycle a little bit more.” And that’s our tie to nature. A plastic world, in which we live a plastic life, and hope we can become closer to nature by recycling more plastic.
Unlike most of us, Patterson determined to escape from his office cubicle. “Indeed, much of our pleasure in learning about Patterson’s Nahanni travels grows out of a perhaps unconscious admiration for a man who succeeds at breaking the fetters that we still allow to encumber us.“ He grew up in a comfortable home, but always yearned for the wild, untamed nature to be found in the wilderness and mountains. He graduated from Oxford University, and found himself profitably employed by the Bank of England in London. The unquenchable need for a bolder and more elemental life became more and more pressing until a summer day in 1923. Pushing back from his desk, and went to his employer to give his notice.
Patterson’s journal writing satisfied two needs. As an educated man he simply took pleasure in words, whether reading the books he carried or being able to share his experiences through his narrative. The journals also helped guard him from loneliness. He knew his story would eventually be shared with his mother and his fiancée. The writing made him feel he was speaking directly to them. Those familiar with Bill Mason’s Waterwalker will immediately recognize this dichotomy. They both enjoyed the adventure, the absence of constraint, the lack of any schedule or deadline, the sense of being on one’s own and one with nature rather than a mere spectator of it, but they were alone. To stave off loneliness, they both needed to feel they were sharing their experience with those they cared for. Whether on a flat rock ledge next to the moving water or next to a fire as the sun set, they dedicated time to trying to keep their loved-ones close to them by creating something they could take back and share---Mason by his film and painting, and Patterson by his written description of his day’s struggles and experiences. A third justification for the journals was their use in later writing The Dangerous River. There are some differences between the journal account and that in the book. The book is a more readable and polished narrative, but the journals are more honest.