In the Westerns I devoured as a teenager, the good guys made a point of leaving the trails they traveled in a better condition than they found them: moving a branch off the trail here, settling a rock into place there (provided, of course, that they weren’t grievously wounded and/or being pursued by the bad guys at the time).
The lesson has stuck with me: the portages I recently traveled have been left in better shape than I found them. Thank you, Mr. L’Amour.
Death on the Barrens: A True Story of Courage and Tragedy in the Canadian Arctic
by George James Grinnell
First published January 1, 2009 by North Atlantic Books
Rating: * * *
The author, one of six young men on an ill-advised, poorly planned Arctic trip in the 1950s resulting in the death of the trip leader, recounts the experience from the distance of 50 years.
This is a memoir, not an autobiography. Rather than focusing on the events of the trip, the book is about the participants: their hubris, expectations, hopes, fears, anxieties, and reactions to the changing conditions throughout the journey. As should be expected, the author’s experience is front and center, with descriptions of the other participants adding context. Grinnell strays into rants from time to time, but since the chapters are all quite short it’s easy to move on.
This is a quick read that will leave you shaking your head. I recommend reading it.
If you like this book, you may also like Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer.