Monday, March 17, 2014

Review of Arctic Twilight

Another great book for armchair boating! This one focuses on Labrador and the Arctic instead of my own home waters. The book Arctic Twilight is subtitled Leonard Budgell and Canada's Changing North. Editor Claudia Coutu Radmore has edited many letters sent by her longtime correspondent Leonard Budgell. Born in a small outport community, Budgell was a Hudson's Bay Company man when that still meant something different from working at the notions counter in an urban mall. Budgell's letters show that his storytelling skills were honed by a childhood without television and a long maturity where talking to people was an important social grace. 
"Where I grew up the hills are high and the water frightfully deep. It used to be a scary feeling when I was little to push off in my boat and let a line and jigger down and watch hundreds of feet of line run out and never reach the bottom, to think that I was perched on top of a tower of black water, that I would sink for a long time before reaching the bottom and what moved and lived in the black depth. I thought of a lot of things like that while I wandered around fishing and sailing, not only when I was small either. When I was at Hebron I once sat under the black face of Cape Mugford, an unclimbable wall of granite that rises sheer from the water for four thousand feet and continues down into the depths for who knows how many more feet. Even in a ship one feels so very small there. In a kayak as I was, it was possible to see how small one is in the general scale. I was a paddle's length from the rocks and there was an unfathomable amount of water under me. Easy to feel humble there, Claudia, very easy. But as you will notice, I have recovered. Perhaps it's the Newfie in me. Ever see a humble Newfie? Me neither. There isn't one. Well, maybe Joe Smallwood."

Time and again while reading this book, I'd find small mentions of the power that boats had in Leonard Budgell's life during his boyhood in Labrador and on Fogo Island, or his youth in the military, or his maturity in the Arctic. There are a few candid and natural photographs as well that illustrate the text appropriately. The reviews of this book praise it thoroughly.

"Claudia, that first time you slide a canoe into the water and climb in and watch that black element that has been solidified for months swirl beautifully around the paddle is special.That first time can never again be duplicated, you think. But it can, again and again, and some people were never born to sit behind fences or ride in cars along narrow little paths. ...The water disturbed by the paddle has a comforting sound. The whisper of the keel on the sand as you touch shore is a poignant little punctuation that ends a paragraph of a day's delight. Your muscles ache pleasantly, and your knees feel creaky from kneeling and the slat of the cross bar seems to be permanently engraved on your seat."

At another point, Budgell describes the tradition of the throwing-up rock -- a place where small offerings of tobacco or candles or rifle cartridges are thrown up into a hollow on the top of huge rock in a river. Such places "were evidently pretty common before the missionaries banned the practise. ...I hadn't felt it was wrong," he writes. His own faith was compatible with both churches and nature.

"When I die, where will they lay me? In a quiet cemetery with flowers and green grass? When my soul wants to be where the wildest winds can tear at my cover till it is gone and what is left is again mingled with the land. The mountain above Tororak will do. When I will die, Tororak will do." 

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