A Death on the Barrens

A Death on the Barrens


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In 1955, five men in their early twenties set off with 36-year-old Art Moffat on a canoe trip through Canada's arctic. The group was unprepared for the cold. They ran out of food and winter closed in. Then the group inadvertently went over a waterfall and the leader. Art Moffat died of hypothermia. One of the young men on the trip, George Grinnell, has worked on his account of the journey for fifty years. It is a powerful book of survival and awakening - a physical and spiritual odyssey. A Death on the Barrens, was originally published in 1996. This revised Heron Dance Press edition contains Roderick MacIver watercolors.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781933937175
Publisher: Heron Dance Press
Publication date: 05/28/2006
Edition description: Revised
Pages: 179
Product dimensions: 6.20(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.50(d)

About the Author

In 1955, author George James Grinnell was one of five young men who set off with 36-year-old Art Moffatt on a canoe trip through Canada's Arctic. The group was unprepared for the cold. They ran out of food, and winter closed in. Then the group inadvertently went over a waterfall and the leader, Art Moffatt, died of hypothermia.
Fifty years in the writing, this book recounts the voyage of six souls in search of the Garden of Eden. After paddling over the lip of the abyss, the surviving five seek their own salvation.

Artist Roderick MacIver (illustrator) founded Heron Dance in 1995 to celebrate the seeker's journey and the spirit and beauty of all that is wild. His words and his watercolors are inspired by a love of wild places and the peace and rhythm he finds there.

Read an Excerpt

All morning the symphony of color played; and in the afternoon, the fires of dawn were fanned into yet more spectacular array by the setting sun. The calm lake mirrored the sky; and, as we paddled towards the horizon, our canoes carried us into that heaven where water and sky are one. Behind us the black clouds of an approaching arctic blizzard shrouded the flaming sky.

When we turned into the narrows, where the current quickened and the colorful lake transformed itself into a tumultuous river, we were surprised to see small furry animals walking about on their hind legs.

"I think they are people," Joe said in disbelief. As we drew closer, we saw that they were Inuit children, dressed in caribou fur and playing on the tundra. When we landed, a woman emerged from the tent, also dressed in furs. Skip Pessl walked slowly towards her while the rest of us remained by the canoes. She spoke no English and seemed very frightened. Her children began to gather around her protectively. Skip rejoined us. We crossed the narrows and set up camp on the far side.

During dinner we heard the sound of an outboard motor. Suddenly, a boat came around the bend. When he saw us, the Inuit hunter turned sharply towards shore and landed. Three of his sons and a dead caribou were in the boat with him. They were smiling broadly. We invited them to share some dehydrated carrots we had found at the abandoned survey camp a couple of weeks earlier. The carrots had been packed in a large tin can. Bruce was using the bottom of the can as a pot and the top as a spoon.

The Inuit shared with us this makeshift meal with smiles. They rubbed their bellies as if it were the best food in the world.The hunter, his cheeks bulging with unswallowed allowed carrots, disappeared behind a rock. When he returned, he was still smiling broadly and still rubbing his belly, but his cheeks were no longer bulging with carrots. He sat down again. Dehydrated carrots had not been the first choice of the Inuit hunter, nor of the survey crew, apparently: that is why they had abandoned them. They were not our choice either, but it was all we had to offer.

Before we had finished eating, the Inuit hunter pointed to the sky. Black storm clouds had been gathering in the northwest since dawn. His sons jumped up and ran to their boat. In a moment they were gone. The Arctic seemed empty without them, and soon the blizzard was upon us.

We lay low the next day while the storm swirled snow across the tundra. In the evening, the wind calmed a little as the cold Arctic air settled over our camp.

"Is that you, George?" Skip asked.

"I thought it was you."

I poked my head out and saw the Inuit hunter.

"Tea? Canoe?" he said.

Skip and the others shortly emerged from the tents, and we greeted him with smiles, but shook our heads: we had lost all our tea the day Art Moffatt died.

"Thank you, thank you," he repeated. "Tea? Canoe?"

After a while, the five of us came to the realization that he was inviting us to tea over at his place. We picked up one of the canoes, but he placed his hand gently on the bow and pressed down. He motioned for us to follow him.

Behind some rocks on the beach, there was a wooden box with a curtain in front of it. We could hear the roar of a kerosene Primus stove. The other Inuit boys and men were standing around smiling. They had prepared for us tea and a large pot of caribou steaks. I do not know if they had been planning to join us, but when they saw how hungrily we ate, they gave all the steaks to us. Everyone was smiling and laughing. We were laughing and smiling too, because we were so happy to get the food in our bellies; and they were laughing and smiling to see us so happy.

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Death on the Barrens: A True Story of Courage and Tragedy in the Canadian Arctic 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
cadillacrazy on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
what a beautiful story. Six men take a canoe adventure down a north-flowing river in Canada one summer in the 50's. George Grinnell finds a way to describe his life-changing adventure without preaching, but including his religious awakening.
pandorasmuse on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A fantastic book, especially for those who are interested in wilderness travel. George Grinnell doesn't shrink from describing his party's strong points, as well as their weak ones. No one is idolized, no one is vilified--he pains a very believable portrait of what he and the five others in his group were like when they set out on their canoeing trip across the Canadian Barrens.I enjoy getting out in the wilderness, but I have never tackled anything quite like this. I probably never will. Regardless, I've tasted a bit of what's described there. Grinnell sums up the euphoria one can feel while away from civilization, and also pegs the despair and fear you feel when you begin to suspect you're in over your head. The five out of six that made it through the end of the journey were extremely lucky. Their trip seems insufficiently planned, and they definitely did not stick to the schedule they needed to keep. Still, a lot of the journey sounds wonderful, and life-changing--even before the titular death.The edition I received contains maps highlighting where on the river each chapter takes place, and is filled with black-and-white watercolors.
bobbieharv on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Quite an uneven book (which I got as an early reviewer), perhaps because, as he says at the end, it took him 49 years to write. Part I was so repetitive I almost stopped reading the book, getting quite irritated with "lanky Bruce," repeated 5 times. Then, suddenly, the pace picked up, the adventure began, and the repetition stopped. I wish he'd had a better editor, because, cleaned up, the book could have been a 5.
co_coyote on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I found this book to be similar to a Greek tragedy. You know from the very first paragraphs of the story what has happened. The only question is how it happened and, of course, that is the most interesting part. George Grinnell, of wealthy and influential stock (his uncle is George Bird Grinnell, an American anthopologists well known in the West) is a bit of a misfit and rebel. He and his five companions hope to discover whatever it is they are looking for on a three month canoe trip through the Canadian Barrens of northern Canada. Their leader, Art Moffett, dies. And the other five somehow make it back alive. Those are the bones of the story, but Grinnell fleshes it out in a strange and compelling way. It is almost as if you were traveling down a easy flowing river and don't notice the pace quickening and the river banks steepening until it is too late to do anything about it and you are heading over the falls. In the end, we learn that Grinnell has been trying to write this story for most of his adult life, and you feel the anguish and the fits and starts in his prose. It is hard to tell if this is adventure story or confessional. It may be a bit of both. In the end, it doesn't matter. It is a tale well told that stays in your head for days and weeks after the book is finished, like a memory.
themagiciansgirl on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
In A Death on the Barrens, wilderness canoeist Art Moffatt recruits five men to accompany him on a journey through the Barrens of Canada. He has planned successful trips before, but from the beginning this adventure seems headed for ruin. There are ongoing issues with leadership, provisions and the schedule. Moffatt seems content to watch the wildlife and wax introspective over heavily-sugared tea when he should have been covering ground. The men -- boys actually, in some cases -- are quite diverse and author George Grinnell does a great job letting their dialog and actions express their personalities. And when tragedy does strike, the events that unfold are especially poignant.Grinnell had problems in school, was reevaluating the values held by his wealthy family and struggling with his own self esteem when he took the trip, so it was part escape and part exploration. He was considered the strongest man in the group physically but that could not save him from gnawing thoughts of confusion and desperation, even amid the ecstasy he sometimes found. His internal and external struggles were palpable.I was hoping he would, but the author doesn't ever seem to reach any kind of definitive psychological resolution, during or after the trip. Still, this is a fascinating glimpse into the heart of a risky and tumultuous adventure. Grinnell shows us his highest highs and lowest lows. A rewarding read. And the black and white watercolors that accompany the book are an eerily beautiful addition.
MtnSk8tr on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I read DEATH ON THE BARRENS almost immediately after receiving it, and found the story compelling. So, why my 8-month delay to review it? It may be related to the reasons the author waited so many decades before penning this epic memoir. This is not a "macho" story; it details very human fallibilities on many levels. Grinnell¿s journey was a profoundly personal one; it took him many years to understand the experience and place it in the context of his life. His sojourn¿s transformative impact is not one that could be easily articulated. Thus, I was greatly moved in highly personal ways and have had difficulty knowing how to write this review. I¿ve spent a lot of time in the outdoors, including extensive mountaineering and serious rock climbing. Like anyone else who spends time in the wilderness, there have been times I feared for my life, as well as that of my companions. Some of the experiences Grinnell had, and issues he addressed, were ones my companions and I have encountered ¿ but not often discussed. My biggest criticism is the book¿s pacing. Early on, the story lagged ¿ but this may have been a stylistic decision, to reflect the dangerously deceptive languor that beset Grinnell¿s expedition early on. Another example is that after the culminating episode of the book, Grinnell rushed through the last weeks of his epic travails so rapidly that I had a hard time fully comprehending what I knew had to be great physical and emotional suffering. Even so: eight months after reading this book, I still think of it frequently and doubt I will ever forget it. Reading DEATH ON THE BARRENS is uncomfortable, but the time invested in pondering its lessons is time well spent.