The tale of six young men on a canoeing expedition in northern Canada—and the bear attack that almost killed one of them.
Messenger was 17 when he embarked on a journey with his comrades on a remote stretch of rivers and lakes in Nunavut, Canada. From the beginning, this chronicle of their days afield is populated by original observations—e.g., the Arctic terns’ “black-and-white feathers appearing and vanishing so suddenly they looked silver”—and salutes to a landscape rich with possibilities. The group spent the first few days getting used to the rhythm of outdoor life on the water, discovering a shortage in their food supplies, contending with heavy weather and swarms of insects, and making all the fundamental errors that mark the beginning of a trip. Messenger is equally comfortable describing flat water and rapids, great recycling whorls and standing waves of water studded with jagged rocks. It’s clear that the author and his buddies were immersed in the sheer effort of the undertaking. “We lost ourselves in the labor and exertion,” he writes. “We plodded on.” One day, while out walking the high ridges of the tundra alone, Messenger was attacked by a grizzly bear, a harrowing encounter that the author recounts in a highly compelling fashion. His wounds were significant, and much of the second half of the book concerns the many difficulties of traveling while attending to his injuries. Despite all his exertions, the nominal leader of the trip couldn’t stop the creeping infection that enveloped the largest of the wounds. “I tried to contain the pain. I failed,” he writes about the agonizing process of irrigating the wound. Rescue was on the way but not before days of rain and gale-force winds, further mishaps, and bad dreams of the PTSD variety.
A shimmering account both as a travelogue of the deep north and vivid portrayal of a grizzly bear attack.