Armchair Book Club: Paddling canoes with Frank Wolf

Heather Allen dives into “Lines on a Map: Unparalleled adventrues in modern exploration”

What could be more Canadian than canoeing across the country in one summer, having Pierre Trudeau help you map a route around Montreal’s shipping canals, or actually carrying a canoe down Portage Street in Winnipeg in order to get to the banks of the Red River?

Frank Wolf, a hardcore adventurer from North Vancouver, has documented these and other journeys on film and in magazines, and now in a collection of short stories called Lines on a Map: Unparalleled adventures in modern exploration. (It’s far more exciting that title suggests.)

Wolf’s self-propelled adventures literally cross North America and the world. He has canoed 8,000 kilometres across Canada, hiked and kayaked from Skagway, Alaska to Dawson City, hiked the entire length the proposed Enbridge pipeline route and paddled through other countries such as Java, Norway, Laos and Cambodia.

I focused on his Canadian trips, serendipitously finding them a great post-election read. As Wolf describes his journeys, he touches on many issues that were prominent, or should have been prominent, in the election: climate change, indigenous issues and protecting our natural resources.

In the days after the election, media pundits and politicians kept repeating that now, more than ever, we are a divided nation. But reading Wolf —as he takes the time to see our wilderness and talk to Canadians across the nation—helped remind me that first, the disparity of regions and people is nothing new, and second, we’d be much better off focusing on what we have in common.

On his journeys, Wolf finds even those whose work involves polluting rivers and destroying habitats aren’t so different from the rest of us. They don’t want oil and gas per se, they simply want prosperity, and currently see oil and gas as their best option. How can we find prosperity that’s better for all of us?

A lot less of us paddle canoes these days – in reality or metaphorically – contemplating the state of the land or looking for what we all have in common, a desire for a good living, for clean water and clean air. Maybe we should make the time to wade in.

As writer John Vaillant points out in his introduction, as you make your way through Wolf’s wild hinterland, you’ll, many times, be glad you weren’t in the boat, But you’ll also wish to hell you could have been.

Heather Allen is a book reviewer for Black Press who lives in the Okanagan.

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