Chill Solitaire: A Boat, a Bay, and the Quest for the Absolute Bear, by Paul Souders. Mountaineers Books, 2018. 304 pages. $26.95.
Paul Souders, who formed as a agents columnist for the Anchorage Daily News years ago, went on to photograph agrarian places and wildlife on all seven continents for such publications as National Geographic and Time. He’s additionally won abundant photography awards.
In “Arctic Solitaire,” his aboriginal book, Souders proves that he can accompany his alert eye to the assignment of a writer. His brooding and wit are on accomplished affectation as he examines both the accustomed apple and his own passions as an adventurer-photographer.
Sounder spends some anterior capacity anecdotic his “weaving and aberrant career trail.” The arc follows his adolescence with a camera and a dream, his antecedent forays into traveling the apple as a war photographer, his bristles years in Alaska, his barrier through freelance work, a gig as an “anonymous agreeable provider” for a Bill Gates’ action and his acknowledgment to chill amnion in an inflatable Zodiac. Again Souders settles into his capital adventure — three summers spent traveling in Canada’s Hudson Bay in afterward of “the absolute bear.” This complex aboriginal towing his 22-foot fiberglass baiter from Seattle to barrage into a river in chill Manitoba and again canoeing a thousand afar forth the western bank of Hudson Bay as far as the Chill Circle.
“All the accessible pictures accept been taken,” Souders writes. “But I’m actuality to acquaint you there are still some brainless and crazy ones larboard out there.” Between the appearance of agenda cameras that fabricated anybody a columnist and the advance of apple travel, it seemed to Souders that the apple had affluence of look-alike wildlife photos. He bare to do article different, article that abandoned he could do. Why not seek out chill bears in their accustomed habitat?
“Go afore agnosticism all-overs in,” he told himself at the outset, “and again amount things out forth the way. I wasn’t accepting any adolescent and I absurd that, if annihilation else, I could abort in absolutely amazing and memorable fashion.”
If the columnist was as adventuresome and inept as he paints himself to be, it’s a admiration that he survived his time in the Arctic. His adventures with storms, aerial seas, ice, cold, burst equipment, averse outboards, cannibal animals, alert hunters, and hawkeye burnout will accumulate readers on the edges of their comfortable sofas alike as they agitate their active at the amount to which he pushed his luck.
Although Souders was the abandoned charlatan on his boat, he relied on accessory calls with his wife aback home in Seattle for acclimate forecasts. In adverse to his berserk and about atrocious personality, she comes through as a articulation of acumen and a abstracted influence. “Cut off the blooming bits, it’ll be fine,” she advises back he asks about aged food. And, “You’ve got at atomic two added canicule of this wind. I achievement you brought forth beneath atramentous music this time.” Again there was the time he ran his baiter up on a bank to anticipate it actuality ashamed by ice, and he larboard her a buzz bulletin advertence “a bit of a situation” and allurement her to attending up the numbers for his baiter allowance policy.
Atramentous music and opportunities for ice imprisonment and ambush aside, Souders additionally entertains by administration from his on-board library of books about celebrated chill expeditions, best of which concluded in arctic death. These accommodate narratives of Henry Hudson’s and Jens Munk’s seventeenth-century tragedies, the better-known John Franklin nineteenth-century tragedy, and others. “If there is one connected in the centuries of Chill analysis it’s this: anybody who came actuality suffered, and best all of them wrote about it in acute detail.”
Throughout, Souders’ own autograph is about beautifully evocative. For example: “While I was acid the ballast free, blooming specks of bioluminescence glowed amid the circuitous grass and mud, tiny jewels amidst the algid and aphotic and muck.”
Again there are the photos, about fifty of them strategically placed aural the text, abacus to the account acquaintance and outstanding in their own right. If the columnist sometimes went weeks after alike seeing chill bears and, back he did, hardly met with the appropriate light, distance, angles, or accommodation for photographing, on a actual few occasions he did administer to abduction his “perfect bear.” He additionally auspiciously fabricated absorbing images of beluga whales, walrus, and the beyond ambiance of tundra, ice, and sky.
Some of the best, best abnormal photos are of bears underwater, beheld from either aloft or beneath the surface. In one, a buck is pond appear the camera, with arch out and behemothic paw reaching. Another photo captures aloof the atramentous accessible aperture and yellowed teeth of a ferocious-looking pond bear. We apprentice from the argument that the camera in the closing case was at the end of a pole captivated from a Zodiac and that the buck both bit the camera and again the inflatable boat, bustling a tube. “At the abrupt buzz of aeroemism air, I knew I’d stepped over the band from incautious, stumbled accomplished stupid, and careened into the branch of suicidal.”
Although Souders did not carefully annoy wildlife, it seems from his descriptions that he sometimes awash them. He does not, in his narrative, altercate the belief complex in wildlife photography — such as advancement safe and amenable distances. Back animals are already fatigued by altitude (as chill bears are by the accident of sea ice), added disturbances that baffle with their accustomed behaviors can added accent them. Souders’ adventure ability accept benefited from some absorption about the attention cachet of chill bears in Hudson Bay and the world, including how our acquaintance of their adorableness and vulnerability could be directed appear their protection.
One breadth area Souders does reflect on his behavior involves his accord to the Aboriginal Nations communities and affluence hunters he met forth the way. He aboriginal on absitively to absolute his interactions with the scattering of abandoned towns to abbreviate stops for purchasing gas. People he met were about apprehensive of an alien and again asked him if he was with Greenpeace; these apropos after grew into behavior that he was application underwater alarm to alarm animals abroad from hunters. Souders eventually abstruse that anybody ability accept been happier if he’d done added to acquaint himself and his activity and approved approval for his wanderings through bounded waters.
At its heart, Chill Solitaire is both a canticle and a attention to afterward one’s affection to the ends of the earth. Few of us would advance so far in afterward of article as aerial as a photograph, and beneath would attack it alone. Souders illuminates what it is to chase a dream to extremes, and he does this with humor, humility, and, in the end, some austere cerebration about what is best important in life.
Nancy Lord is a Homer-based biographer and above Alaska biographer laureate. Her books accommodate “Fishcamp,” “Beluga Days,” and “Early Warming.” Her latest book is “pH: A Novel.”
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