Monday, March 30, 2015

Discovering Eden

Discovering Eden: A Lifetime of Paddling Arctic Rivers, by Alex M. Hall (pub. by Key Porter Books, Toronto, Canada, 2003, 218pp plus index, pb.)
The Canadian Barrens are many things, but one thing they are not is barren.  Imagine, on one trip of 19 days, seeing 50,000 to 100,000 migrating caribou, 237 muskoxen, 32 wolves, three wolverines, and two grizzlies.  Imagine a land where you can travel without seeing another human, and perhaps plant your feet where no other human has trod for hundreds of years.  This is a country where 50% of it is water.  There are still hundreds of rivers and hundreds of
People were the one thing missing from the Barrens, at least until the mid-1970’s.  Alex Hall decided in 1974 to spend his life being a canoe expedition guide, against the advice of the Canadian government, which couldn’t see such a venture succeeding.  Canoe Arctic, Inc., existed in name only for a few very lean years, but is still operated successfully by the author to this day.  Here is the link to his site, where you can view 25 photo galleries, and begin to plan your dream trip.
This is a fascinating and informative book.  Every paddler will find takeaways from these pages.  You will learn things you likely never knew about the native aboriginal peoples, the habits of caribou, and the life cycles of blackflies and mosquitoes, finding wolf dens and coexisting with wolves, close encounters with grizzlies, stampedes of thousands of caribou right through camp, and learning to keep provisions safe from bears.  Above all else, you should feel an even deeper appreciation and understanding of the wilderness and nature’s delicate balance.
Having run canoe expeditions all his life, you will find clear insight into what makes a successful canoe trip vs. a tale of horrors.  He makes it clear that an expedition is no place for democracy.  Someone has to take the lead, and that position needs to be respected by everyone in the group.  Trips are run at the pace of the slowest, weakest paddler.  There is never an argument over tactics.  Since safety is the foremost priority, discussions may be held over whether to line, portage, or run a rapids,  or the miles or hours to be run, but the least hazardous or threatening point of view is always accepted without further comment.  Everyone agrees to and adopts these standards beforehand or they don’t go---period.
In the latter half of the book, Hall will explain the changes that have occurred on the Barrens in the size of herds and packs, the changes that come as money and greed invade the territories to dangle the perpetual promise of jobs, the exploration and exploitation for diamonds, gold, copper, uranium and other metals, the desire to build year-round, all-weather roads that will open the territories to more mine building, and the damning of rivers to create the hydro-power needed to operate the mines.  Unlike other areas where these problems damage and destroy habitat, the changes that would occur in the Barrens wilderness will destroy ecosystems and the balance of nature itself.  With such short growing seasons, there are trees now standing that are hundreds of years old, some as much as a thousand years, and it would take that long again for their replacement.  Beds of lichen through the wilderness, upon which migrating caribou depend for food through the winter, take 40-60 years to be replaced.  The destruction of this food source would destroy the herds and all forms of wilderness life that feed upon them.  This book offers a great opportunity to learn about the area and the efforts being made to protect it, and get these lessons from a man that has made the Barren Lands and its wildlife the guiding forces of his own life.

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