n 1997, photographer Jonathan Waterman began a 2,200-mile journey across the Arctic in pursuit of Inuit culture. He made the trip alone, for the most part, by kayak, skis and dogsled, travelling through Canada's northern islands and heading west to Prudhoe Bay in Alaska. With all its physical and psychological demands, the journey provides the basis for Waterman's engaging new narrative, Arctic Crossing.
Author of numerous adventure books, including In the Shadow of Denali and Kayaking the Vermilion Sea, Waterman is more pragmatic than the average nature-lover. He pursues a dream to confront the wilderness alone yet he is anything but a dreamer. On this trip, he's wise enough to be scared. Arctic Crossing offers plenty of white-knuckle moments as he struggles to steer his outrigger-equipped kayak through wave-filled seas, learns on the job to drive a sled across ice and battles loneliness to the point of hallucination. More troubling than Waterman's risky adventures, though, is his portrait of a society disrupted beyond repair. Spending time among the Inuit, he discovers a culture in which traditions have been forgotten or abandoned. Unemployment and teen suicide are a few of the issues the Inuit face after centuries of struggle.
Waterman also probes the past in this narrative. Along with the history of the Hudson Bay Company and the Northwest Passage, he examines the relationship between the Inuit and Canadian governments. There are fascinating sections about the arctic explorers and anthropologists in whose footsteps he follows.
Along the way, Waterman puts his photographer's eye to work. The vistas he describes are breathtaking. Starkness of landscape frozen lakes and tundra and a diversity of wildlife are all evoked in Arctic Crossing. This is a journey the reader will not soon forget.
James Neal Webb writes from Nashville.