Paddling in to Winter

book-review-Paddling-to-Winter

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paddling to Winter

By Julie Buckles

Raven Productions, Inc. 2013

272 pages, $17.95

ISBN 978-0-9835189-2-1

Reviewed by Colonel J.C. Allard

 

Finally winter is starting to loosen its grip. The days grow slowly warmer and the snow is fading. The ice grows soft on the ponds and soon the North Country’s rivers and streams will be running full and fast.

Fishermen and fans of paddling sports thrill to this time of year, when water courses reawaken. A good book stirs the heart in much the same way.

Anyone moved by the romance of great adventure or by the paddling of canoes will welcome Julie Buckles’ 2013 book Paddling to Winter as much as ice-out. Her story of one 1,700-mile canoe trek from home on the Lake Superior shore of Wisconsin to the edge of the Arctic in northern Saskatchewan is an epic in just 272 pages.

“Epic” because it’s a big story about a bold journey along the edges of North American civilization, but also epic because it sticks in the reader’s mind. Days after finishing the book, the story remains vivid, the people important, the scenes bright and clear.

Into the straight forward trip narrative is woven the deeper story of Julie Buckles and Charly Ray, their meeting, relationship, and marriage in the context of this “dream trip” imagined first by Charly and later adopted by Julie herself. Add to that the wider story of the Buckles and Ray families, numerous supportive friends, a host of characters encountered along the way, several pets, Canadian and U.S. environmental issues, Native American issues, with some history, geology and astronomy thrown in for good measure.

An experienced journalist, Buckles writes with precision. Her narration is crisp and clean all the way to an ending neither planned nor expected.

Of special interest to New England readers, Buckles and Ray opted to make the journey in a canoe they built themselves. They traveled to Maine and constructed a wood and canvas E.M. White ‘Guide’ canoe, under the guidance of noted Maine canoe builder Jerry Stelmok.

Named “Le Strubel” for family reasons, their hand-crafted canoe carried Buckles and Ray to Wollaston Lake, Saskatchewan, where they wintered-over in a cabin borrowed from chance acquaintances. The canoe trekking and the experiences of an enforced sub-arctic winter sojourn provide the framework of the larger story. Old friends, new friends, the familiar and the foreign flow through the narrative like water courses.

To call Paddling to Winter a page turner is trite and insufficient. It is captivating. What happens within its pages matters and a reader will not want to stop. As with any paddling adventure, you always want to know what lies around the next bend in the river, or on the remote, far shore of the lake.

Through the years, canoeing has inspired a lot of great writing and story-telling: Christopher Norment’s In the North of Our Lives, David Halsey’s Magnetic North, the works of Sigurd Olson, as well as Eric W. Morse’s Fur Trade Routes of Canada: Then and Now. To that litany of important, well-written, interesting works may be added Paddle to Winter.

Whether paddling the Connecticut or the Kennebec, Lake Umbagog, Lake Morey, or the Northern Forest Canoe Trail, reading Paddling to Winter is sure to inspire. Julie Buckles found her voice in the tranquility of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area and in the clutches of a storm-savaged lake. Listening to that voice is both pleasing and provoking. She has raised the backcountry travelogue to a higher level. She has taken a “dream trip” and made something much more than a line on a map. Even those without any paddling experience will enjoy this book and end it wanting to read more from Julie Buckles.

 

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