Like many others my interest in the Polar regions comes first from the south. Everybody knows the sad story of Scott and the amazing feat achieved by Shackleton. But those stories are not more than the tip of the iceberg. Once you begin to dig around them you realised you can´t stop digging, because each thing you find carries you to get deeper and deeper into the black hole which is the polar exploration. This is so serious than I have been even accused of having read more books about polar exploration than about Spanish history. Shame of me, but it is fairly true and yet I am an ignorant who is only scratching the surface of this massive mountain of ice.
Well, let´s continue. It was the Antarctic duel between Scott and Amundsen which took me investigate to further on Amundsen. Amundsen led me to the North Pole, to Nobile and Nansen and to the Northwest Passage too. Amundsen was to me a sort of Caronte who linked with his life two very different worlds, the North and the South Poles.
Nobile made me take a look to the tragic Andree´s expedition, to the north duel among Peary and Cook and to other explorers of that time. The Northwest Passage, yes, that poisoned yellow brick road, showed me that there was a third Pole to conquer, one which I was unaware of. A death trap which would produce hundreds of books and the death of many people and which still has a story to tell, we will see. It was then that I found myself right on the other side of the gates of the nineteenth century after having crossed the frozen desert of the beginning of the twentieth,
By then I though I was reading stories old enough, but, ...how wrong I was. Through that door I could see a maremagno of expeditions full not only of tragedy, love and death but of determination and courage too. I looked at the right and to the left and I saw the Franklin expedition getting lost forever, the Rosses reaching the Antartida. I saw Barrow leading his herds from one place to another failing here and there. I saw how an incredible battle was taking place and I saw how the siege to the Northwest Passage was closing its circle.
Digging and digging and digging a bit more I reached the Franklin expedition to the mouth of the Coppermine river, and then, accompanying him, I reached the tragic place of Bloody Falls.
|Bloody Falls by The Bug Geek|
That place is not only the old stage of a massacre, it is also a window, a time gate which transports you 50 years before, from 1821 to 1771. There, between broken skulls and a terrible story of death and blood I discovered Samuel Hearne. An English officer who left the Navy to join the Hudson Bay Company and who was the first european on reaching the shores of the Polar sea. A man who did it in a time where those areas where only populated for a combination of Indian tribes and wild animals.
Samuel Hearne is, like Amundsen and Franklin, a bridge between two times, two different centuries.
You only have to take a look into his portrait and the portrait of those men contemporary of him, to realise you are reaching the bottom of the time tunnel.
We are speaking of a time when the American colonies where struggling to get their independence, when the French took the Bastille and began to behead people all over the place. Is that a time past enough? It is not. Samuel Hearne is going to be the guide who will lead you another 50 years further back in time to the tragic story of James Knight and we could continue so for a while till reaching Henry Hudson and Barents...and who knows who more!
But I came here to speak of Samuel. Few times during these last years my wife has told me that I was so enthralled with the reading of a book that I looked as if I was going to get into it. Eyes wide open, body rigid, nervous movement of a foot, scratching my bald and failing breath at some points. That´s the effect Ken McGoogan book about Hearne provoked me this last week. Samuel Hearne accompanies you through the life in the Royal Navy of the eighteen century and lodges you in the remote forts propierty of the Hudson Bay Company when they were stone walls with no more than a handful of cabins with only tens of Europeans living inside.
|Prince of Wales Fort|
One of the other books which haunted me that much was the expedition to the mouth of the Coppermine river performed by Franklin. There is something on that Barren Lands which makes me shiver. The 1819-22 Franklin expedition is a tragic story which you can´t stop reading because you are not certain how it is going to end, but Samuel Hearne story and life gives you a much more complete picture and his tale, through Ken and Hearne´s own words you enjoy and suffer equally because his story it is a a story of success but also of overcoming hardships and tragedy.
Samuel made a radiography of the land, people, customs and wild life of the region, his curious nature left an essential legacy for others which came after.
Samuel died young, too young indeed. He died even too soon to witness how his own narrative of the journey was published, the narrative which carried him to the fame. His love story is the kind of you want to see in the cinema with your girlfriend, the kind of story which would make your mother cry. Through Ken´s steps you can follow easily, very easily, the track of this man. In "Ancient Mariner" you will find the gate you need to go down to the next floor in the basement to keep digging into its ground and to get inmersed in the shadows of the time where the days were colder, the life harder and the northern world was just a black stain on maps which swalloved explorers untiringly.
When I read "Fatal passage", a book which tells the story of John Rae, also by McGoogan, I said to my myself:
-John Rae deserves a movie
After reading Ancient Mariner I said:
- Samuel Hearne deserves a movie
This time, thankfully Virginia Barter, the historical writer and filmmaker, thought like me and took some steps forward making a short movie of nine minutes telling part of his story:
A whole TV serie could be made to tell it and still surely there would be details about his life which would stay out of the script.
Surely Ken´s writting style has a lot to do with this feeling. His books are like movie scripts and he adds the necessary dramatic climax to keep you engaged to the reading till the point that words become people and pages become scenes.