The Raven's Gift: A Scientist, a Shaman, and Their Remarkable Journey Through the Siberian Wilderness

The Raven's Gift: A Scientist, a Shaman, and Their Remarkable Journey Through the Siberian Wilderness

by Jon Turk

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Noted scientist and kayak adventurer undertakes a journey of spiritual healing

Jon Turk has kayaked around Cape Horn and paddled across the Pacific Ocean to retrace the voyages of ancient people. But, the strangest trip he ever took was the journey he made as a man of science into the realm of the spiritual. In a remote

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Noted scientist and kayak adventurer undertakes a journey of spiritual healing

Jon Turk has kayaked around Cape Horn and paddled across the Pacific Ocean to retrace the voyages of ancient people. But, the strangest trip he ever took was the journey he made as a man of science into the realm of the spiritual. In a remote Siberian village, Turk met an elderly Koryak shaman named Moolynaut who invoked the help of a Spirit Raven to mend his fractured pelvis. When the healing was complete, he was able to walk without pain. Turk, finding no rational explanation, sought understanding by traversing the frozen tundra where Moolynaut was born, camping with bands of reindeer herders, and recording stories of their lives and spirituality. Framed by high adventure across the vast and forbidding Siberian landscape, The Raven's Gift creates a vision of natural and spiritual realms interwoven by one man's awakening.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Thirty-odd years ago, adventurer and environmentalist Turk (Cold Oceans) watched his dog root around in newly thawed dirt and jump wildly in response to some primeval scent in the earth. In that moment, Turk had a clear vision that the margin between life and death depends on a tactile, sensory awareness of the environment that incorporates but also transcends logic. Although he gradually forgot this lesson, it came hurtling back to him one day in July 2000 when he met Moolynaut, a Siberian shaman who introduced him to the “Other World” and the ways it impinges on the “Real World.” In prose by turns ponderous and lively, Turk narrates his journey to Siberia, the people he meets, and his introduction to the mysterious Moolynaut, who seems, like Shakespeare’s Prospero, to have created a storm that washes Turk and his companion onto the shore of her village. Eventually, Turk finds himself standing naked, balancing on one foot, holding his right hand behind his back and pointing straight in front of him with his left arm as Moolynaut heals his fractured pelvis. During these moments, Kutcha, the Raven Spirit, teaches Turk to see that the Other World and the Real World are united. In what could have been an intriguing memoir but instead is mundane and uninspiring, Turk unconvincingly rehearses many of the mantras of New Age spirituality magic—even as he offers a breathtaking glimpse of life in a small, forgotten Siberian village. (Jan.)
Kirkus Reviews
Canadian science writer and outdoor adventurer Turk (In the Wake of the Jomon: Stone Age Mariners and a Voyage Across the Pacific, 2005, etc.) explores metaphysical and anthropological territory on the far side of the Bering Strait. At the turn of the present century, writes the author, he began a quest to visit the remotest parts of the Kamchatka Peninsula as part of a long kayak journey along the Arctic rim of the Pacific Ocean. On that daring journey-as he notes, "a kayak is the smallest oceangoing craft and the North Pacific is one of the most tempestuous seas in the world"-he met a Koryak shaman, an elderly woman named Moolynaut. Through Moolynaut and other members of her family and tribe, the author learned firsthand about the lives of native people in Russia under communism and its successor-Moolynaut says they were forced "to move into villages and become ‘mouse eaters.' " Mice figure in the Koryak world, but so do bears, wolves and ptarmigan, all of which have lessons to impart. Turk also learned culturally important truths, sometimes reluctantly delivered, about native views of life, death, the afterlife and other issues that, sadly, were crowding in on him at the time. He proves a sensitive traveler between two worlds, though he mentions once or twice too often his status as an outsider "learning to discard my Western prejudices and to open myself to a mysterious way of thinking." One hopes that his account is more anthropologically accurate than the works of Carlos Castaneda, whom Turk cites approvingly. Regardless, the author offers a sort of higher truth in his passing observation that we are losing a great mass of knowledge with the erasure of the old ways, the victims, inthis case, not just of communism but of modernity as a whole. A moving account worthy of shelving alongside Vladimir Arsenyev's Dersu Uzala (1923), Barry Lopez's Arctic Dreams (1986) and other explorations of native ways of life in the Far North. Agent: Richard Parks/Richard Parks Agency
author of A World Without Ice and Uncertain Scienc Henry Pollack

The northern lights have indeed seen strange sights, but none quite compare to Jon Turk's adventures on the frozen tundra of Kamchatka. There he encounters a great-great-grandmother spiritual healer who mends his body of damage sustained in a long-ago skiing accident. The tension between his own logical scientific background and the mysterious shamanistic wisdom of his healer is at the heart of this wonderfully-told story of Koryak life and his own personal transformation.

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St. Martin's Press
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Raven's Gift
Part 1To Vyvenka by KayakI have seen that in any great undertaking it is not enough for a man to depend simply upon himself. 
--Lone Man, Teton SiouxA Walk with My Dog: Spring 1970Forty years ago, I was a research chemist, working at night, in the absence of sunlight, buffered against all vagaries of weather by a precise climate control system. In an effort to probe into the nature of the chemical bond, that much studied but still mysterious collection of forces that holds all matter together, I blasted molecules apart with a beam of high-energy electrons and then accelerated the resultant fragments into a powerful magnetic field.It was intense, stressful work, and one sunny weekend day, in the spring of 1970, I went for a walk with my dog across an alpine meadow in the Colorado Rockies. A few patches of crusty snow lingered in shady and north-facing aspects, but the open spaces were dominated by young, green grasses, the lifesaving nutrition for elk and deer after a long, hungry winter. The earth was moist and spongy underfoot and I knelt down to smell a glacier lily that had opened its petals to the warm, spring sun. My dog suddenly raced off at sprint speed for about fifty yards, leapt into the air like a fox, with his front paws spinning, and landed, digging furiously, clods of sod flying into the air. I felt certain that he was chasing a ground squirrel, futilely trying to dig faster than the rodent could run through its tunnel, the waydogs chase prey, as sport, because they know that a bowl of kibble awaits them back home and failure holds no penalties.I sauntered over, but by the time I arrived, my dog had abandoned that hole, sprinted another fifty yards, and repeated this same odd behavior. There was no evidence of any burrow in the vicinity of the first hole, nor at his second, or his third, or fourth. Had he gone mad? I watched him more closely. Each time, after breaking through the protective sod, he shoved his nose into the earth and sniffed, then dug, and sniffed again. What did he smell down there? I squatted on my hands and knees and tentatively stuck my nose into one of his holes. Even my human senses could detect the sweet aroma of decay as mites and bacteria woke from their winter somnolence and began to munch and crunch, as only mites and bacteria know how, to convert bits of roots and old leaves into soil.I assumed that my dog, with his animal instinct, was rejoicing in the process of spring, in the primordial smell of rebirth and renewed growth, a smell that originated when organisms first ventured onto the naked rock of the continents. By the time I reached the fifth hole, my nose and cheeks were smudged with dirt and bits of moist soil lodged onto the hairs of my nostrils, so the earth was inside me, as if we had just made a lifelong pact of togetherness. I lay on the grass, sandwiched between the chill spring dampness on my stomach and the warm sun beating against my back.The next morning, I returned to the lab, as usual, but something inside me had changed. Although the dog caper, by itself, didn't create an instant epiphany; it was the tipping point. Over the next few weeks, I realized that I couldn't spend my whole life down there in that room, which suddenly felt like a dungeon, manipulating particles that I could never see, under the flicker of fluorescent lights, in a world permeated forever with the smell of acetone and benzene. A year later, I finished my thesis, stuffed my Ph.D. diploma in the glove box of a battered Ford Fairlane, lashed a canoe on top, and headed into the Arctic.Since that time, my entire adult life has been a balancing act between science on one hand and the smell of the earth that became so seminal that spring day in the Rockies on the other. I have made the bulk of my livingwriting college-level textbooks on geology, environmental science, chemistry, physics, and astronomy. At the same time, I moved to a ski town and became involved in high-intensity rock climbing, skiing, kayaking, and later mountain biking. Climbing a vertical granite wall in a remote region of the Canadian Arctic--vulnerable to gales from the North Pole--involves a different level of intensity than smelling the spring earth. But the relationship between the two is stronger than most people would suspect. During expeditions, the often razor-thin margin between life and death depends on a tactile, sensory awareness of the environment that incorporates but also transcends logic. My first introduction to that awareness occurred on a spring day when I was walking in a meadow with my dog.Over the decades, these two aspects of my dichotomous personality have forged a comfortable symbiosis. I have grown to enjoy the exhilaration and toil of arduous expeditions to remote, dangerous, and beautiful places, and at the same time I am always happy to return home, sit in a comfortable office chair, and distill complex scientific concepts into sentences that a college student can understand and appreciate.But if I thought I understood my relationship with these two disparate worlds, nothing had prepared me for the day when I stood naked on one leg before Moolynaut, a one-hundred-year old Siberian shaman and healer, with my right hand behind my back and my left arm pointed straight in front of me. When I stabilized my balance, she chanted herself into a trance and asked Kutcha, the Raven God, to heal my overused and battered body.THE RAVEN'S GIFT. Copyright © 2009 by Jon Turk. All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America. For information, address St. Martin's Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.

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