A man and his valley

As with most people, I like surprises. And when that surprise is of my own making it is even more satisfying. Many years ago I put away a magazine for safekeeping. It contained an article very dear to what I am doing these days in writing a book of my Antarctic adventures 42 years ago.

A couple of weeks ago I found I needed more room to store my collection of National Geographic magazines. This meant a major revision of my bookshelves. Tucked there at one end was the “carefully stored”  Canadian Magazine of September 7, 1974.

This copy was an insert in the Edmonton Journal. The reason I kept it was because of the  five page spread on Canadian Sir Charles Wright, known to his friends as Silas in his days as a member of the famous Scott Antarctic Expedition of 1910.

Back in the 70s I held the notion that I would one day write a book of my adventures for the family. The Wright story would provide good background. Besides, I wanted to go visit him and talk about my adventures up and down that awesome valley of his name. The story would help. I did make contact with his family at the time but it was not till 1976 that I was able to travel out to Vancouver Island.  As a young immigrant family we just did not have  the funds for such an adventure. Sadly by the time we could travel on the grocery money Sir Charles had died.

Magazine feature of Canadian Sir Charles Wright

My personal interest in the story of this man from the heroic age of Antarctic exploration was because much of my work in 1968-69 related to New Zealand’s activity in the Wright Dry Valley. Wright himself was a member of Scott’s Western Party charged with mapping and naming certain landmarks in the area. The huge Taylor and Wright valleys cover roughly the same area as Great Salt Lake at 4500 sq kms and are are probably the driest deserts on earth. Silas Wright would have been one of the first people to ever venture into the area.

Silas and his fellow sledgers hauled everything on their backs. I had the advantage of motor transport and helicopters. We also had the advantage of radio contact with Scott Base.

Silas’ grandson Adrian Raeside has written a fascinating book Return to Antarctica, published last year. He wrote the book based on Sir Charles diaries as well as those of his great uncles Griffith Taylor and Sir Raymond Priestley, also members of the same expedition. The book added fresh depth to my knowledge of  early exploration in this most fascinating part of our planet.

And yes, it was Sir Charles Wright, Silas then, who discovered the bodies of Scott, Bowers and Wilson in their lonely grave  on the Barrier Ice.

(more to come)

Writing at the 49th

OK. So what does a wedding anniversary and writing a book have in common? Not a lot, except I used one event to achieve  some of the other. April 8 was a 49th anniversary for Lois and I and I had the bright idea of celebrating Number 49 at the 49th parallel.  For us that simply meant heading south from Calgary for  something like three hours to Waterton National Park — the northern half of the Glacier-Waterton Lakes International Peace Park straddling the Alberta-Montana border. I’ve loved that place ever since my first visit in the late 70s.

It’s quiet and it’s peaceful. At this time of the year there are not a lot of people around. There is no commercial activity in the village so you have to amuse yourself and eat at the only restaurant open during the winter months. The weather for the 3 1/2 days was a mix of snow, wind, rain, and wonderful sunshine, a bit like most of southern Alberta.

Happy Anniversary!

Arriving on the actual day of our wedding 49 years ago, we wandered the windy streets to the peace marker on the lake edge, hung Lois’ camera in a tree, set the timer and snapped a picture for posterity and to send to all the rellies and friends. We dined well afterwards and enjoyed the quiet comfort of our hotel room marvelling at the wind whipped snow swirling outside. We were well satisfied with our own conversation, sharing a crossword puzzle and reading our books.

All in all it was a fitting and quiet, isolated backdrop to the next part of our mini vacation — editing and polishing a couple of chapters on my Antarctic book.

I had a couple of chapters I wanted to complete to submit to a writers’ conference we are heading to this coming weekend in Port Townsend, Wa. Lois had already given me some very positive feedback and I used her good information and suggestions to re-edit and improve the manuscripts. Each chapter is approx 2500 words.

The conference is organized by Writing It Real (see links). We attended a similar conference a year ago. That was good fun with the bonus of being built into an Alaska cruise. I used a couple of chapters of the book for the group sessions and found the comments and suggestions from writers like myself to be especially stimulating and worthwhile. These folk talked from a reader’s point of view and once I incorporated that feedback found that it really changed the tone of my book and the information I was providing. The emphasis from them was that it was my story and I should lose the “journalist approach”. Good words, kinda tough though so I have endeavoured to find the middle ground.

Between exploring Waterton once again and finding new delights to photograph and talk about it was a stimulating weekend with much needed focus on a couple of difficult sections in the book-writing process. The scripts were emailed as soon as we got back to Calgary and now I look forward to new input and suggestions from the 12 writers in my group sessions and also from a one-on-one encounter with a member of the conference faculty (also a publisher).

Waterton was restful and enjoyable. I was able to write, think and enjoy a few days dedicated to a task that excites me  in the company of a person who continues to dazzle me each day with her smile, wit, wisdom and creative talents as an artist.

(Much more to come)

A welcome email

In my last blog I spoke of my brain getting a bit overheated. Well, that knocked me out for a few weeks and even the joy of writing eluded me as I shut down a lot activities just to come to grips with that energy sapping condition we commonly call depression.

But yesterday I got an email from a very good friend who simply wanted to know how I was doing? He is in New Zealand and at the time he was either reorganizing his children’s bookshelves or heading out to his garden. I am in Alberta where we are enjoying the early stages of spring. The robins have arrived, and today heading to church we saw gophers (Richardson ground squirrels) frolicking around the boulevards.

Robin Foubister is a rare and trusted friend and our friendship goes back some 42 years when he, as the newly-appointed leader of the 1968-69 New Zealand Antarctic Research Programme, selected me out of a list of 90 or so applicants to fill the role of information officer/photographer. That was the first time I met him. Our friendship grew over that summer in Antarctica and has continued on through the rest of our lives even though our journeys have been hemispheres apart. In the snail mail days there might have been the odd letter and then in the 80s we were able to renew ties when I worked and lived in New Zealand with Mobil Oil. In the 90s he and his partner Sue visited me in Calgary. Then came email and best of all the exciting reunion I spoke of in my previous blog.

Robin Foubister

On the ice the two of us might choose a sunny Sunday afternoon to go for a walk  and I recall one such excursion where I think we had to get some fresh air in our heads after being badly bruised through the week by the political bullying of our masters far away in New Zealand.

We wandered through the pressure ridges near Scott base, fully equipped for such a hike. It was dangerous stuff as snow hid the ‘slots’ or crevasses and we could break through at any step and maybe drop into the sea and an icy grave. There is a special way of walking with an ice axe firmly held across the body to break a fall should a slot open up underneath. And it happened. The sun reflecting off the snow had lured us across a patch of sea ice as we went to say hello to a basking seal. Plop, I went down. The ice axe held and my backpack provided extra support. Robin came to my rescue, pulled me to safety and we both just lay on the snow laughing our silly heads off. Tensions of the week soon dissipated.

Foubister (left) and then Governor General of New Zealand Sir Arthur Porritt raising the flag at the opening of the new station at Lake Vanda.

Robin proved to be an exceptional leader and one of the best to fill the role in managing New Zealand’s undertakings in Antarctica. With his guidance the year’s programme was completed, I am sure that under his leadership  US-New Zealand relations improved, we hosted and provided the logistics for Italian and Japanese exploration parties, entertained many VIPS including the Governor General of New Zealand and his sons and completed the new winter over Vanda Station.

I always felt that the 100% attendance of our small party at the reunion a couple of years ago was a testament to his leadership. And we will never ever know why he did not qualify for the New Zealand Antarctic Medal. Right now he is the oldest surviving leader of Scott Base.

(more Antarctic tales to come)