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BOOKS REVIEWED ON THIS PAGE: Wilderness Paddler's Handbook, Tumblehome, Abandoned

Reviews by MICHAEL PEAKE -- Che-Mun Editor

  • For more reviews see the All About Canoes Book section

    Wilderness Paddler's Handbook
    By Alan Kesselheim
    Ragged Mountain Press
    Camden, Maine. 284 pp, $18.95US
    ISBN: 0-07-135418-2

    Why is it that so many great cooks own so many cookbooks? It's a question I've often found perplexing until I realized how many canoe how-to books I own.

    And the answer of course is that each one brings its own unique offerings and insights. Certainly, they do cover a lot of familiar ground - but it's ground you love and the unique features are to be savoured.

    And so Chef Alan Kesselheim, to extend a metaphor, serves up his latest offering; The Wilderness Paddler's Handbook. Kesselheim, who lives in Bozeman, Montana, covers all the bases here with his friendly, cheerful style. The writing is very conversational, as though your picking up this wide variety of tips from a friend.

    The author is not afraid to state his mind on matters and one chapter I loved is Gear that Changed My Life.

    In it he states his favourite pieces of equipment that include the bent-shaft paddle, fabric spray covers, folding chair, inflatable sleeping pads, cast Aluminum Dutch oven, bug jackets and self-standing tents. Each selection is accompanied by some solid reasoning (though I still can't bring myself to use a bent-shaft!).

    It's a very thorough book, covering all the major areas for long and short trips, solo and kids. There are plenty of great diagrams and instructions for running rapids and making spray covers. There are many black and white photos but quite a few are poorly reproduced - a common complaint these days!

    If you're like me you will pick out particular sections of the book that interest you. It is laid out in a logical order from trip inspiration to planning and paddling skills and equipment.

    Kesselheim is always a delight to read and this breezy handbook will serve you well on or off the water.

    Tumblehome: Mediation and Lore from a Canoeists Life
    By James Raffan
    HarperCollins, Toronto
    137pp $20
    ISBN: 0-00-200069-52

    James Raffan, like Alan Kesselheim, is one of the handful of premier writers on canoe-related subjects. And this little book, much like Kesselheim's latest, is a diversion from each writer's regular output.

    Tumblehome is a small, insightful series of essays beginning in Raffan's past. He recounts his astonishing young life as a kind of Huckleberry Raffan of Guelph, Ontario. The Speed River, while not a noble stream, was the subject of Raffan's boyhood adventures-in an age where kids were allowed to play by rivers alone - something far too "risky" for the modern urban child.

    It instilled in his flowering sensibilities a special connection with nature which have served him so well. The former Queen's University prof, Raffan now makes his living as a writer, and is doing well at it since he combines the research structure of the academic and the lyrical style of the romantic. He is also a very funny fellow both in person and in print.

    Some of the other short chapters are set along the upper Thelon River and at the base of Bill Mason's Denison Falls.

    But this is a highly personal book and we are fortunate to be taken along. The final essay, Tumblehome, speaks about his troubled leaving of university after 18 years and embarking on a solo trip north of Yellowknife. When his canoe blows away he is forced to strip down and swim after it. In the end he retrieves not only his canoe but a new meaning for his life.

    By Alden Todd
    University of Alaska Press, 2001
    325pp $22.95US
    ISBN: 1-889963-29-1

    This reprint of a 1961 book, tells the grim story of the Greely Expedition of 1881-1884. With a foreword by Vilhjalmur Stefansson.

    This US-led trip headed to Ellesmere Island and recorded numerous scientific data and reached the furthest north of any trip of that time.

    When their supply ship failed to arrive they descended into a long period of starvation and 19 of the 26 member crew succumbed. Greely and six others were finally rescued which meant, unlike Franklin, the story could be fully told.

    This story first appeared in Che-Mun Outfit 106


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