Monday, July 30, 2012

Irish archaeologist shows way to Viking site

"As archaeologist Ned Kelly stood in a field sixty kilometres north of Dublin," the article begins, "describing how the Vikings founded a “longphort” or fortress-settlement at this spot nearly 1,200 years ago, I realized that he was talking about the ancestors of many Canadians, including possibly some of my own. Kelly, keeper of antiquities at the National Museum of Ireland, led the expert team that recently discovered this long-lost Viking site."
The writer is yours truly. The magazine is Canada's History, August-September issue. The piece continues:
"When we strode across this greening field near the town of Annagassan, on the Irish coast south of Dundalk Bay, we were walking atop the covered remains, yet to be excavated, of a citadel, a stone rampart, and many ancient workshops and houses. Because the site was established early in the Viking Age (841 A.D.), and has remained buried beneath farmland for more than 1,000 years, 'Linn Duachaill' -- the name means 'pool of the beast' -- is probably the most important longphort ever discovered. From here, according to the Annals of Ulster, Scandinavian sea-farers conducted inland raids within a radius of 125 kilometres."
For the rest, which is really, really, really interesting, pick up a copy of the magazine, which is now turning up on magazine racks. Oh, and there's a short video you might want to catch.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Where Elisha Kent Kane spent two Arctic winters

The June issue of Up Here magazine contains a piece about visiting the spot on the coast of Greenland where explorer Elisha Kent Kane spent two years trapped in ice. Written by yours truly, it begins . . . .

At last I could see how it unfolded. From where I stood, on a small rocky island off the northwest coast of Greenland, I could see where, one May afternoon in 1855, an expedition leader fixed a final message to a post near the gangway of his ship. Elisha Kent Kane, age thirty-five, posted that message to explain to any searchers why he was abandoning the Advance and “in case we should be overtaken by disaster.”

Now, 156 years later, in my mind’s eye I watched as Kane joined his men, all of them starving and suffering from scurvy, some of them unable to walk because of frostbite, and set out to haul three small boats eighty kilometres over ice to open water. I could not help but see this because for three years, while researching and writing a book called Race to the Polar Sea, I had immersed myself in the life of this resourceful doctor. And as I stood there, watching his departure unfold in the distant past, I felt engulfed by a great wave of sadness.

This surprised me. I had expected euphoria. This was the place, after all. And I was the first here. No other author-historian had reached this spot. Four years before, when on the outskirts of Philadelphia I became the first biographer to wander through the house of Kane’s grandfather, I had felt a rush of satisfaction. And when, at the home of a Calgary antiquarian, I became the first to peruse a long-lost journal Kane had written while trapped aboard the Advance in this very location, I could hardly contain my excitement: this was it, the real thing!

Why, then, this wave of sadness? My unpreparedness had to be a factor. I hadn’t expected this voyage to take me anywhere near Rensselaer Bay, as Kane named this desolate location. I was sailing as a lecturer with Adventure Canada. Ice conditions had forced a change of itinerary. Instead of sailing west and north out of Kugluktuk, our ship, the Clipper Adventurer, had followed the coastal route eastwards into Baffin Bay. . . .

(for the rest, track down the June issue of Up Here)

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Arctic Journals of John Rae





So here's an enticing book that has just gone to the printer: The Arctic Journals of John Rae. The finished work will surface in September. Before that happens, I will sail Into the Northwest Passage with Adventure Canada, bent on leading a zodiac-sortie to the spot where John Rae discovered the final link in the Passage.  He built a cairn there in 1854, and in 1999, with a couple of friends -- one of them Louie Kamookak of Gjoa Haven -- I erected a plaque at that location. If you're keen, the expedition may yet have a few vacancies. Tell them I sent you!