Carl’s Library: Salamina

Our friends at the Rocky Mountain Land Library have been sharing photos of a few of the wonderful books in their vast collection, set against the scenic backdrop of the Buffalo Peaks Ranch. Though my own library is much, much smaller, and the view from my apartment is not nearly as inspiring, I’d like to follow their lead and occasionally show you some of the beautiful old books occupying my shelves—particularly, books about exploration (that is, exploration back in the glory days before GPS, digital cameras and North Face jackets). I have many books about the American West, Canada, and the high latitudes of the polar regions; books about journeys of discovery over unforgiving terrain and survival in dangerous weather conditions, books about boundless tracts of wild land and the flora & fauna therein, books about Indigenous Peoples living in harmony with nature, books written by those who have successfully explored and charted unmapped territory, and books about those who died in the attempt. I’m able to experience the wilderness for only a few weeks out of each year; I’m happy that I can read and dream about it during my time at home.

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Recently, during an email conversation about books, my friend remarked that a book she’d read at a young age had just popped into her head for some reason. It was a story about life, love, nature and culture, accompanied by striking illustrations. She revealed that the book had changed her life. That book was Salamina by artist and writer Rockwell Kent…

I was surprised that I had never heard of this book, or the author. From my friend’s glowing description, I knew that I had to see it for myself. And because the artwork is a key component of the book, I decided that I wanted to get a nice copy; thanks to the internet, I was able to find a 1935 first edition in great shape, and reasonably priced. It is the most recent addition to my library…

The book tells of the author’s life among the native population of Igdlorssuit, Greenland in 1931-32. He went there not just to live and explore, but also to paint and draw. Like my friend, I enjoy the pen & ink drawings opening each chapter and the many full-page portraits done in Conté crayon…

I hadn’t gone far into the book before I realized that I was very happy with my purchase, and grateful that my friend had brought this title to my attention. And I knew that I would be acquiring more books by Rockwell Kent the moment I read this wonderful passage:

Let all your dreams have been of warmth and tropical luxuriance; let what at last is given you be bare, bleak, cold, in every way unlike your thoughts of earthly paradise, your chameleon soul cries out, “By God, I love this barrenness!” Why otherwise have men gone out from comfort, from the pleasures of city life, from all the cultivated beauty of a developed countryside, and in hardship and poverty, in unremitting labor, in all the hard conditions of some frontier life, found happiness? Why do men love the wilderness? For its mountains?—there may be none. For its forests, lakes, and rivers?—it might be a desert; men would love it still. Desert, the monotonous ocean, the unbroken snow-fields of the North, all solitudes, no matter how forlorn, are the only abiding-place on earth of liberty.

Beautifully stated, Mr. Kent. And quite true.

Illustrations and text: Copyright 1935 by Rockwell Kent.

(Posts about my library are archived through this link:

The Prize

Four Pontiac latitude records are in the books—two here, one here and the most recent, from 2016, here. The fifth latitude record will be the last. I’ve long dreamed of driving to the shore of the Arctic Ocean; as of last Wednesday, that dream can become reality.

The coastal village of Tuktoyaktuk was previously accessible to drivers only from late November through April via an ice road which begins in the town of Inuvik. You don’t have to be a mechanic to know that this LeMans was not built for driving in the Arctic winter, and there is no way I would ever attempt such travel with this car. Now, with the opening of the all-season gravel road from Inuvik to Tuk, many motorists, myself included, are looking forward to making that long drive to the top of North America. (Here’s an excellent CBC article about the new highway.)

Tuk sits just short of 70° north latitude—over 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle. Yes, I could take the Dalton Highway to Deadhorse, Alaska to crack the 70° mark and get about 52 miles farther north, but I’m not interested in making that drive. Why? Because the Dalton ends at Deadhorse, about seven miles short of the Arctic coast. This is where the Prudhoe Bay oil field begins, and private vehicles are not permitted in that area. The only way to see the shore at Prudhoe Bay is to go on a tour bus. Carl doesn’t do tour buses.

Driving to Tuk is not a journey to be taken lightly; it will require a lot of planning and preparation. The round-trip distance from my home will exceed 8000 miles, and more than 1100 of those miles will be logged on gravel roads, beginning at the Dempster Highway near Dawson City in the Yukon Territory. The Pontiac will need a lot of maintenance before the trip in order to get through successfully. Still, I expect at least one flat tire on the Dempster, and likely some more windshield damage. I rarely use the back seat on my excursions, so I plan to remove it for this adventure and use that space for the recommended gear—two full-size spare tires, ten gallons of gasoline and other additions beyond my usual assortment of tools, fluids and spare parts. And you can bet I’ll be buying a satellite phone before I head out.

Aside from the latitude record and a view of the North Coast, I’m looking forward to my first visit north of the tree line and seeing actual tundra. I’m expecting an overdose of visual splendor on this journey; can’t yet imagine how many rolls of film I’ll burn through. As for the departure date, I’ve been following the weather up there and early September looks promising. 2018, 2019, 2020? One of those, hopefully. A little early to make that call, but I will let you know once I know.