The Dangerous River, by RM Patterson. Pub 1966
This is one of my all-time favourite books about the outdoors (yes, I have read it before). A rollicking story of adventures in the Canadian North, Patterson details his summer and then full year in the South Nahanni region of the North West Territories in 1927-29. His explorations of some uncharted regions with (what we would see today as) very rustic gear are mystic and hair-raising, and his story telling and vivid descriptions are London-like in the way they capture the essence of the North. Things like:
“As I was finishing supper I heard a branch snap on the far bank, and there was a big black bear walking along…He saw my camp at last and scampered away up the hill, pausing now and then for breath and wheezing noisily like an aged gentleman.” You can hear that huffing and puffing.
“The wet sand by the water’s edge was hidden under a carpet of shimmering blue, a host of small butterflies delighting in the heat; gaudy black and yellow swallowtails flickered past, gay jockeys of the sunshine in their racing jackets.” You can feel that summer heat.
“January was cold. The cold was alive, active and hostile like some visitant from outer space. It beat down upon the valley, watching it’s only human occupant as a cat watches the scurryings of a mouse – waiting patiently to see if he would make a mistake. It gave one a sense of pressure – of the presence of an enemy who had all the patience and all the time in the world.” Perhaps the best description ever of the extreme cold.
The book was written in 1954 (25 years after his travels) and published in England only. My copy is a first Canadian edition from 1966, but is different only in the foreword and the map frontispiece. Patterson’s recollections are vivid and engaging, and I can confirm that his other books about his travels and life are equally exquisite in their stories and telling (especially The Buffalo Head).
These stories are wonderful glimpses of wildernesses that no longer exist (although this is protected (in 1978, it was one of the first UNESCO World Heritage Sites), there are now three airports on the river) and adventures no longer had. No more do people venture into uncharted territory (for there is none left) with no hope or opportunity of rescue or of being missed. Indeed, finding a place where you would not be found is now a lost dream to many. But these stories give a chance to taste those adventures with a man who was there and can tell you captivating tales of a bygone age.
Fate – this book is a treasure of mine, so I’m definitely keeping it.
5 – a book about travel (non-fiction)
6 – an author’s debut book
12 – a book set in a place I’ve never been (NWT)
22 – a memoir