- by Carol Standish
Cold Oceans (Harper Collins; 276pp; $24.00) by Jon Turk is a standout in the non-fiction adventure genre. Subtitled Adventures in Kayak, Rowboat and Dogsled, the book contains four engrossing tales of rare beauty and high adventure all set at the ends of the earth. It is also the chronicle of a man growing up. In between harrowing and joyous accounts of grand adventure the author frankly shares his struggles to be a good father and husband.
The opening expedition is a solo kayak circumnavigation of Cape Horn. The trip seems unplanned and impetuous. Turk pays for these youthful mistakes. On the second trip he is accompanied by a new girlfriend, Chris Seashore. Together they row and haul a fiberglass wherry most of the way through the Northwest Passage. Seashore's reaction to the Arctic is a counterpoint to Turk's. "Jon, we don't have to go all the way…maybe we're here to experience the North," she says, to which he replies heatedly, "this is an expedition, not a vacation!" On his third expedition, traveling by dogsled up the Atlantic coast of Baffin Island, his companion is a taciturn hulking giant stranger. The dogs prove more trustworthy than the man.
On the fourth expedition, Seashore and Turk, now married, trace an ancient Inuit migration route from Ellesmere Island to Greenland in kayaks. This trip is something of a resolution. Turk has noticeably mellowed. He is more relaxed and kindly in his observations and more caring and appreciative of the critters (he finds the narwhals both mythical and magical) and the people he meets…all except for the Thule AFB personnel who have written off their surroundings as a total white-out bore. They should try a little kayaking in their off hours!
Turk's style is crisp and vivid. Cold Oceans's evocative descriptions of snow and ice, wild ocean and blinding mist literally transport the reader into the exotic. Turk's wide reading in both history and science (he was trained as a chemist and has a day job writing chemistry texts) both enrich and ground his expeditions. He often quotes European explorers and indigenous people who've traveled similar routes. (In fact the pioneers are often his inspiration.)
In the end, the outstanding characteristics of this book turn out to be the outstanding characteristics of its author. Turk reveals himself to be irrepressibly curious, pitilessly honest with himself and his reader, endlessly resourceful, and acutely intelligent, just the kind of man you just might choose for a teammate on your own grand adventure.