UNDER POLARIS by Tahoe Talbot Washburn


An Arctic Quest
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A modest memoir of scientific exploration in the Canadian Arctic. In 1938 first-time author Washburn accompanied her husband, Lincoln, to the far north when he went to pursue doctoral fieldwork on the geology and glaciology of the vast region; for the next several years the two traveled across much of the ice pack, studying both the landscape and its people and animals. Washburn’s memoir is drawn from journals she kept at the time, and they—re full of exclamation marks, mundane details, and the unexplained stuff of passing observation. “We found the early Canadian bush pilots to be outstanding men individually and as a group,” she writes, without elaborating, leaving the reader to imagine why the bush pilots should have merited such commendation. As the narrative progresses, Washburn’s account takes on a more lively air, but it’s still not much of a literary production. Even so, readers may enjoy her accounts of the hardships of life in the permafrost. For instance, getting into the Arctic heartland above the Mackenzie River delta, she writes, took much doing, including bargaining for passage with sometimes surly, often lonely trawler captains; becoming accustomed to the ways of her Inuit and Eskimo neighbors (and especially their penchant for practical joking) presented other difficulties—as did negotiating a path among contending missionaries and government workers charged with improving the spiritual and material life of the native peoples. Of greater value than Washburn’s words, pleasant enough though they are, are the more than 100 photographs taken by the author and her husband, which accompany the text; they show innumerable details of life in the still-frontier Canadian far north, and they are unfailingly interesting. For those photographs alone, diehard fans of Arctic-exploration narratives will find this a valuable addition to their collections.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-295-97761-2
Page count: 264pp
Publisher: Univ. of Washington
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1st, 1999