Crocodiles and Ice

jonturkIt’s been eleven years since I first encountered Jon Turk, which was also my first Montana Festival of the Book, circa 2005. I’ve mentioned Turk before HERE, and spoke specifically of his most recent big adventure HERE (which got him nominated as a National Geographic “Adventurer of the Year” at the age of 65). In 2005 he was promoting his most recent book at the time, In the Wake of the Jomon: Stone Age Mariners and a Voyage Across the Pacific. He was fascinating and engaging as a speaker, and I loved the book. So I followed up with the one that had preceded Jomon, Cold Oceans: Adventures in Kayak, Rowboat, and Dogsled. Loved that one too. Next up was The Raven’s Gift: A Scientist, a Shaman, and Their Remarkable Journey Through the Siberian Wilderness, which came out in 2006, and the event I attended at the University of Montana in support of that book was particularly profound to me.

In the past year, Jon and I have become friends. His life, and his stories, are fascinating. I’ve been pitching pieces related to him and his new book, Crocodiles and Ice: A Journey into Deep Wild, since early summer. One will be coming out in December. Hopefully it will be merely the first.

Meanwhile, if you are in Missoula, he is giving a presentation at the University tomorrow night, sponsored by Fact & Fiction. It’s well worth attending. Here are the details, from Jon:

Crocodiles and Ice is a scientist/adventurer’s journey into a Consciousness Revolution based on a deep, reciprocal communication with the Earth. The book highlights my award winning polar expedition circumnavigating Ellesmere Island, as well as other, lesser known passages. But, more critically, I tell the story of my lifelong journey from suburban Connecticut into a passion for Deep Wild, an ancient passage, repeated — in one form or another — countless times, and ignored just as often.

I invite my readers to listen to our Stone-Age ancestors, the poets of the ’60s, a wolf that lingers, a Siberian shaman, a Chinese bicycle nomad, a lonely Tlingit warrior laying down to die in a storm, and the landscapes themselves. Because beyond the wondrous and seductive opulence of our oil-soaked, internet-crazed, consumer-oriented society, there lies a glorious and sustainable lifestyle that is based on Deep Wild as a foundation of solace, sanity, compassion, and hope.

It’ll be from 7:00 PM – 9:00 PM at the Underground lecture hall on campus. Hope to see some familiar faces there!

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Creekside Drama

The other evening a couple miles up on my (near) nightly ramble in the Rattlesnake I reached a spot creekside. It was a gorgeous fall evening, and I decided I wanted to grab a picture — it’s one of my favorite spots that, while definitely popular, doesn’t get near the traffic other sites do — before climbing a steep hill and returning to the trailhead. As I approached the bank, I thought to step out onto some flat rocks so that I could be farther out into the water for a better photographic vantage point. I took a step, heard a splashing at my feet, and lo and behold —

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This snake had a fish firmly by the tail. Up out of the water, the fish’s gills were still flexing steadily, but not quickly. My immediate reaction was to want to rescue the fish, which is strange. Yeah, I have learned a deep affinity for fish as I’ve become a more avid fisherman (how’s that for a contradiction?)(I’m certain other fishermen, and hunters for that matter, can relate), but why should its life be more important than that of the snake? So I left them alone, and sat back to watch the struggle unfold. I was transfixed, and found it oddly emotional.

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At one point a couple other hikers approached, with dogs, and I stood from my perch on a rock to try and keep the dogs away. The two hikers — young women — eyed me with looks of mild concern before ascending the hill I had intended to climb. I didn’t want the dogs to mess up what the snake was trying to accomplish.

The snake worked the fish around and positioned its jaw at the fish’s tail, clearly with the intention to swallow the entire thing. How it hoped to accomplish that I don’t know, but I trust it knew what it was doing. I could have remained until darkness watching, fascinated, but I had to return to Missoula and pick Julia up after work. I was pleased to witness it, though. Something I’d never seen before, and possibly never will again.

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The next night I returned to the spot, curious to see if there were any signs of what had happened. No dead fish, no bloated and belching snake, nothing. No one ever would have known what had happened there. Who knows what DID happen there. Maybe the snake pulled off its feast, maybe a dog — or bear, for that matter — came along and swallowed them both. I’ll never know.

I took the opportunity to take the pictures that I hadn’t the night before, though.

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I explored a couple little side trails on the way back that I hadn’t hiked before. Looking upstream I could see clearly that someone had built a cairn out in the flow, but there weren’t any obvious paths to access it. After some bushwhacking and finally some wading out into the current, I got a closer look.

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There were a couple cairns, which were cool enough, but what amazed me is that someone had taken the time and no small amount of effort to make little redirections of the stream so that it flowed over rocks, creating little pools and waterfalls along the way. It was like some guerrilla zen garden of some kind, and I loved it. Again, I could have stayed for hours. The pictures I took don’t do it justice.

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It made me happy. It proved that how we humans choose to disrupt nature doesn’t always have to be shitty, that sometimes we can actually make beauty. It was good to be reminded of that.

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Feel Good Hit of the Summer

world-war-z-posterLast weekend Julia and I ordered up some pizza (take out, since we live in the wilderness now)(i.e. a place that doesn’t get pizza delivery) and watched via Blu Ray a movie we’d intended to see in the theater but never got around to, World War Z. This movie, based on the novel by Max Brooks, was more than just a star vehicle for Brad Pitt: he played a major role in getting rights to it and getting it made. It didn’t seem to be a story that could be made into a film, as the book isn’t a traditional novel in any sense. Instead, it is a fake “oral history” of a war against zombies that has recently been fought. It is broken up into sections, each totally different from the last, capturing the stories of different people and how they managed during the events. No central character, no central theme, nothing. I loved the book, and I was curious to see if the filmmakers managed to pull it off. For my money, they did. Big time. I thoroughly enjoyed this movie.

I’m not a zombie movie guy. In fact of all the “supernatural” entities that books and movies regularly come back to — vampires, werewolves, zombies, etc. — they are far and away my least favorite. But this really isn’t a “zombie movie” at all. It is more of an action/adventure movie, which is right up my alley. The zombies are the villains, certainly, but they really aren’t even in the movie all that much.

So the premise is some virus has swept across the earth and civilization starts to crumble. Brad Pitt’s character is a former employee of the UN, who apparently did a lot of work in hot spots around the world. He gets dragged into the plan to take this young doctor to South Korea to investigate the possible origin of the virus. One thing leads to another, and Pitt finds himself needing to complete the doctor’s work. So he becomes the central thread of the story, and the individual stories ala how the book is written are the different places he goes and the people he encounters.

Pitt is a tough guy, but he’s no ex-military badass. He is the type of action character I prefer. He’s smart, observant, and a survivor. He does kick some ass when it’s necessary, but he takes a hell of a beating too. I found the movie fun and exciting, and it kept me on the edge of my seat. At PG-13, it wasn’t full of graphic violence either. Their was some grossness, sure, but what violence there was was more implied than splashed across the screen, and that is more effective in my opinion anyway.

Sure there are holes that can be punched in the movie, and there are a few problems. But it destroys most of the action movies I’ve seen lately, and was two hours of entertaining escapism, which was exactly what I wanted from it. I’ll definitely see it again.