Under Polaris: An Arctic Quest

Overview

Tahoe Talbot Washburn first visited the Arctic in 1938 with her graduate student husband, Lincoln. The journals she kept of their adventures over the next three years - written in tents and snow houses, at missions and Hudson's Bay Company posts - form the basis for Under Polaris. The Washburns traveled the coastal areas of Victoria and King William Islands, learning to deal with close calls aboard boats while struggling to keep from colliding with ice floes, running aground in icy fog, or drifting helplessly out...
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Overview

Tahoe Talbot Washburn first visited the Arctic in 1938 with her graduate student husband, Lincoln. The journals she kept of their adventures over the next three years - written in tents and snow houses, at missions and Hudson's Bay Company posts - form the basis for Under Polaris. The Washburns traveled the coastal areas of Victoria and King William Islands, learning to deal with close calls aboard boats while struggling to keep from colliding with ice floes, running aground in icy fog, or drifting helplessly out into open water. They learned to travel by dog team, even through blinding snow storms. And they learned how to hunt and fish for food for themselves and their dogs. They came to value greatly the help and companionship of the people who became part of their lives, whether they were Inuit, Hudson's Bay Company employees, Canadian government workers, Catholic and Anglican missionaries, or the remarkable pilots of the single engine planes that got them to their destinations. Washburn made a concerted effort to learn the survival skills of the Inuit women and to understand their lives. She tells of their patience and gentle amusement as they helped her, their curiosity about her way of life, and their generosity in sharing meager resources.
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Editorial Reviews

Booknews
Based on Washburn's journal of the first three years of her journeys in the Arctic beginning in 1938, including photographs by her and her husband. They traveled the coastal areas of Victoria and King William Islands by boat and dog sled. She made a concerted effort to learn the survival skills of the Inuit women, and describes the process of making caribou skin clothing for herself and her husband. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknew.com)
John E. Gordon
Although this is not an academic book, it provides a rich insight into life in the field 50 years ago -- of the practicalities and experiences behind the scientific results that are published in the academic literature. It will appeal to those who have an interest in the Arctic, those who have worked there and those who aspire to do so. One feels a sense of great admiration for the Washburns, as well as a sense of envy for an era that is no more.
—Quaternary Science Reviews
Kirkus Reviews
A modest memoir of scientific exploration in the Canadian Arctic. In 1938 first-time author Washburn accompanied her husband, Lincoln, to the far north when he went to pursue doctoral fieldwork on the geology and glaciology of the vast region; for the next several years the two traveled across much of the ice pack, studying both the landscape and its people and animals. Washburn's memoir is drawn from journals she kept at the time, and they're full of exclamation marks, mundane details, and the unexplained stuff of passing observation. "We found the early Canadian bush pilots to be outstanding men individually and as a group," she writes, without elaborating, leaving the reader to imagine why the bush pilots should have merited such commendation. As the narrative progresses, Washburn's account takes on a more lively air, but it's still not much of a literary production. Even so, readers may enjoy her accounts of the hardships of life in the permafrost. For instance, getting into the Arctic heartland above the Mackenzie River delta, she writes, took much doing, including bargaining for passage with sometimes surly, often lonely trawler captains; becoming accustomed to the ways of her Inuit and Eskimo neighbors (and especially their penchant for practical joking) presented other difficulties—as did negotiating a path among contending missionaries and government workers charged with improving the spiritual and material life of the native peoples. Of greater value than Washburn's words, pleasant enough though they are, are the more than 100 photographs taken by the author and her husband, which accompany the text; they show innumerable details of life in the still-frontier Canadian farnorth, and they are unfailingly interesting. For those photographs alone, diehard fans of Arctic-exploration narratives will find this a valuable addition to their collections.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780295977614
  • Publisher: University of Washington Press
  • Publication date: 3/28/1999
  • Series: McLellan Books Series
  • Pages: 247
  • Product dimensions: 6.33 (w) x 9.35 (h) x 0.94 (d)

Table of Contents

Foreword
Preface
Introduction 3
1 North! Cambridge Bay, Victoria Island, Hike to Mount Pelly, July 17-20, 1938 7
2 With George Porter and family on Fox, To Minto Inlet and on, July 21-August 30, 1938 25
3 Fossil hunting on Read Island, With Ikey Bolt on Jane B. to Minto Inlet, July 20-September 13, 1939 51
4 Cambridge Bay area, Snow house living, March 26-April 18, 1940 73
5 Investigations around Cambridge Bay area by dog sledge, April 14-May 29, 1940 88
6 Mount Pelly, Local investigations, June-July 1940 107
7 Flying to the west coast of Victoria Island, August 4-25, 1940 124
8 With Sea Otter to Wilmot Island, On to Cambridge Bay, August 26-September 10, 1940 137
9 With Patsy Klengenberg on Aklavik, To Terror Bay, King William Island, September 14-19, 1940 146
10 Learning about Inuit life, September 20-December 8, 1940 167
11 Attempt to reach Cambridge Bay with Patsy, Retreat, Travel with Jorgen and family to Perry River, December 16-27, 1940 183
12 To Cambridge Bay, On to Ole Andreasen's at Richardson Island, December 28, 1940-February 16, 1941 202
L'Envoi 220
Acknowledgments 221
Glossary 223
App Itinerary and People Met 229
Bibliography 236
Index of Geographical Names and Locations 237
Index of Personal Names 241
Index of Ships/Schooners 247
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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 30, 2000

    'Under Polaris, An Arctic Quest' A Remarkable Adventure

    This book provides an intimate perspective into the lives and practices of the people of Canada's Northwest Territories during a significant transition period for this area. Arctic whaling had just come to an end and the sometimes questionable practices of the industry were diminishing. The fur trade became the predominant industry and companies like Canalaska and Hudson Bay had a prevailing influence in the area. Washburn's travels through the area involved these companies and the people whose lives now revolved around them. She carefully documents how these people lived and her (and her husband's) interactions with them. The book captures a time when umiaks, dog sleds, and ice houses were a common part of the landscape, in contrast to today's motor boats, snow mobiles, and pre-fabricated housing. The photographs are a remarkable accompaniment to the narrative. Washburn had some remarkable adventures and has done a remarkable job of documenting of them and the people whose lives touched upon hers.

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