Thursday, February 2, 2017

Kerouac's Ghost tracks the King of the Beats into the Sixties

News flash: The newly revised, final final final edition of my novel Kerouac's Ghost has just become available via Print on Demand. Yes, you can still get the ebook. But if you prefer to peruse a physical artifact, voila: here it is from Bev Editions. For the rest, I offer incontrovertible evidence that I am an obsessive reviser: would you believe four published versions? AND that the first version emerged from Pottersfield Press in 1993. Not only that, here's a taste . . . .

Chapter 21:
Jack Says Don't Do It 

If human consciousness is a neural megalopolis, then a psychedelic trip is a chart-blasting earthquake. It reduces buildings to rubble, knocks out communications, plunges the city into wounded silence. And if that city is a San Francisco of the Psyche? If it straddles a major fault-line? On Mount Jubilation, the rush of Frankie's first acid trip brought me not only that Haight-Ashbury experience but my own psychic adventure in Newton Center, Massachusetts, where with Allen Ginsberg, in January of 1961, I visited Timothy Leary. The guru-to-be was still working as a psychology professor at Harvard, supposedly chasing down a cure for alcoholism.
Leary told me psychedelic drugs could work miracles. They could change the world. They made religious experience universally accessible. I popped his mushrooms and relived a nervous breakdown I had narrowly survived in the navy, when I had ended up in the psychiatric ward because I thought I could see inside people's heads.
That trip shook me to my foundations. But it did not raze me. And later that year, when Leary produced more mushrooms in Ginsberg's New York City apartment, I chewed a dozen or so. Leary took me walking through the snowy streets of the Lower East Side and we tossed a loaf of bread like a football. Then I started hallucinating—saw buildings toppling, people turning into cackling demons. The usual horror show, with everything happening on several planes at once. Every sentence Leary uttered contained five or six meanings.
 Next day, I awoke to myself—but I wasn't the same. It was the morning after an earthquake. In some sectors, the destruction was minimal. Elsewhere, nerve centres and filters had been knocked out. I was disoriented. If objects could change essence without changing shape, a simple chair becoming a golden throne, how then did I know what I thought I knew? Reality was provisional. Our modes of perception were conditioned responses. Anything was possible.
Despite my differentiated consciousness, and my thirty-nine years of age, psychedelic drugs had reduced me to pre-adolescence. And here's the worst of it: the effect stayed with me. Months after that second psychedelic trip, during a thirty-day drinking binge that brought me, red-faced and ranting, to an old favorite bar in Lowell, Massachusetts, I met a ne'er-do-well steeplejack named Paul Bourgeois, an ex-thief who had spent twelve years in jail.
After listening to me rave drunkenly that my ancestors included not only French Canadians but North American Indians, Bourgeois concocted an insane story that spoke directly to the drug-traumatized twelve-year-old in me. Bourgeois was Moon Cloud Chief of the Four Nations of the Iroquois. He had just returned from Prince of Wales Island near the North Pole, where 3,000 of our people, half-French, half-Iroquois, were starving to death. Trouble was, nuclear submarines were cruising beneath the polar ice cap, polluting the water and contaminating the fish. As Moon Cloud Chief, Bourgeois was en route to Washington to complain. What's more, we were cousins, he and I, because two of the four tribes in the North were named Kirouac and L'Evesque, Memere's maiden name.

Incredibly, I believed all this, even when I got sober. I wrote letters telling friends that soon I would be travelling north to join my Iroquois brothers. And I hung onto this fantasy for six months. Eventually, I brought Bourgeois home to Florida where, under pressure from Memere, he confessed the truth and made me listen. Nobody understood it—how a cheap con artist with an eye for beer money could snooker a famous author. But that was because nobody understood the destructive power of psychedelic drugs. . . .

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Dead Reckoning takes us to the wreck of John Franklin's Erebus

To a crazy-busy 2017, the eagerly awaited, double-whammy climax will come in September. First, we go voyaging Out of the Northwest Passage with Adventure Canada. And this being a celebration year (something about Canada's 150th birthday?), we get to enjoy a special, spectacular treat. Assuming the weather behaves, we will don a dry suit and, accompanied by folks from Parks Canada, go snorkeling over the wreck of the HMS Erebus -- John Franklin's ship, which is just eleven metres beneath the surface. 
Don't take my word for it. Instead, try clicking here: As you can see, those on board will have "the rarest of experiences at the site of the recently-discovered wreck of HMS Erebus. Here we will be the first expedition voyagers allowed to snorkel the wreck, or for those not keen to get in the water, observe the wreck from the newly-constructed observation platform and via an underwater remote operated vehicle (ROV)." Are you kidding me?
But wait: did I say double-whammy? Also in September, we will see the publication of Dead Reckoning: The Untold Story of the Northwest Passage. But I will let HarperCollins Canada handle the reveal: "With this book—his most ambitious yet—Ken McGoogan delivers a vivid, comprehensive recasting of Arctic-exploration history. Dead Reckoning challenges the conventional narrative, which emerged out of Victorian England and focused almost exclusively on Royal Navy officers. By integrating non-British and fur-trade explorers and, above all, Canada’s indigenous peoples, this work brings the story of Arctic discovery into the twenty-first century. . . . [The book] encompasses such forgotten heroes as Thanadelthur, Akaitcho, Tattanoeuck, Ouligbuck, Tookoolito and Ebierbing, to name just a few. Without the assistance of the Inuit, Franklin’s recently discovered ships, Erebus and Terror, would still be lying undiscovered at the bottom of the polar sea."
Anyway, September. Double-whammy. Are you with me?

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Our Northwest Passage voyage reaches for the Beaufort Sea

[Here endeth this series about our 2016 Adventure Canada voyage. Next September, we sail Out of the Northwest Passage, bent on finding the Hand of Franklin (or at least visiting the location of the Erebus).]

DAY SIXTEEN . . . Cambridge Bay

We saw the wreck of the Maud, recently brought to the surface after 80 years underwater in Cambridge Bay. We zoomed over for a close look as we headed from ship to shore. A Norwegian recovery team brought the old ship to the surface not long before we arrived. With winter closing in, they would have to wait until next year to float the vessel to Norway, where they will restore it and display it.
Explorer Roald Amundsen had the shallow-draft Maud built in 1916, with a view to drifting over the North Pole. He brought it to the Beaufort Sea from the west, but in 1925, with creditors knocking at his door, sold it to the Hudson’s Bay Company. The HBC renamed it the Baymaud and used it as a supply ship until 1930, when it sank in Cambridge Bay.
Once ashore on this crisp Saturday morning, voyagers rambled the town until around 10 a.m. Most people checked out the Visitors’ Centre, or the Northern Store or Co-op, before heading to the Community Centre for some best-ever bannock and coffee. Then came an excellent presentation that included a fashion show, some fiddle music, and an Inuit sports demonstration that included our own Johnny Issaluk. Somehow, we managed to keep to a tight schedule, and by 1 p.m., the Ocean Endeavour was bound for Kugluktuk.
The highlight of the afternoon was a wide-ranging, 90-minute panel discussion presented by the six outstanding Inuit on board. They touched on everything from the need for increased infrastructure (for example, landing docks like the ones that exist in Greenland) to suicide prevention to cruise-ship tourism, which panel members stressed is most welcome, as long as it is carefully managed. 
DAY SEVENTEEN -- Kugluktuk

The seas were choppy, but everyone arrived safely at the wooden dock in Kugluktuk. Two buses carried us to Heathrow North, aka the Kugluktuk airport, where we boarded two planes and started for home. Just before we left, two flights arrived in Kugluktuk carrying passengers set to voyage Out of the Northwest Passage. We welcomed them to Heathrow with a rousing rendition of Stan Rogers’ classic tune, Northwest Passage. And then we went on our way.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Gjoa Haven highlights this Adventure Canada voyage

DAY FIFTEEN -- Gjoa Haven

The people of Gjoa Haven welcomed our on-board Inuit singers as if they were rock stars. Come to think of it, they ARE rock starts. Susan Aglukark has an international reputation and following, so the screaming was no surprise. But young Kelly Fraser was also accorded a tumultuous reception. This happened in the gymnasium at the high school, and it was wonderful to see. Joyous and moving. Some staffers, not mentioning any names, and certainly not confessing, found themselves wiping away tears.
Before the show, about half the voyagers trekked out to the hilltop memorial dedicated to Roald Amundsen, who spent two winters here while becoming the first explorer to navigate the Northwest Passage from one end to the other. Those years: 1903-06. 
Amundsen stayed in Gjoa because he was taking readings to locate the North Magnetic Pole, and mounds on the hill overlooking the town indicate where he built observation stations.
Passengers appreciated displays of traditional Inuit ways. Several bought carvings, and Mari-Hill Harpur was thrilled to purchase a stone bear after talking with the artist and his family. For some, seeing old friends was a major highlight of the visit, and in my case, getting to share a few laughs with Louie Kamookak, Inuk historian and fellow traveller, proved memorable. I keep insisting that he's an elder now, but he denies it. Says he's not old enough. Capturing all this on camera: Sheena Fraser McGoogan.

Beechey Island graves testify to the demise of the Franklin expedition

[Beechey Island is the most visited historical site in the Arctic -- and with good reason. Last September, we got snow. In 2017, when we sail Out of the Northwest Passage, we will call in there once more.]

DAY TEN-- Beechey Island
 Sixty or seventy beluga whales stole the show at Beechey Island. We floated among them in zodiacs as they fed amidst the small icebergs beneath the island’s stupendous cliff face. This was the grand finale of the visit. We had landed near the graves and found the island blanketed in a couple of inches of light snow. We climbed the slope on Beechey to a series of four headstones, three of which mark the graves of sailors from the Franklin expedition.
They died here in 1846, and after burying them with due ceremony, Franklin and 125 men sailed south down Peel Strait to meet their own fate. The fourth headstone marks the grave of a sailor buried here in 1854, a man from Robert McClure’s ship, the Investigator.  He had been rescued from that vessel, which lay trapped in Mercy Bay on Banks Island, but was already so sick that he did not survive.
After viewing the graves, first discovered in 1850, passengers hiked slightly more than one kilometer along the shore to check out Northumberland House. Searchers built it in 1852-53 from the wreckage of an old whaling vessel. Several memorials and markers here are tangential. But we saw the Franklin cenotaph, which stands over a marble slab sent here by Lady Franklin to honour Joseph-Rene Bellot.
In 1853, Bellot had volunteered to lead a small party north from Beechey Island to where British Captain Edward Belcher was wintering. As Bellot proceeded, the ice edge broke off and left him stranded, floating, with two men on an ice floe. Undaunted, he built a snowhouse in which to shelter. Early in the morning, he stepped outside alone . . . and was never seen again. He had slipped and disappeared into the frigid waters. Later that day, the floe drifted to shore and Bellot’s traumatized companions jumped off to safety.
In front of the slab at Beechey, rusted tin cans from the Franklin expedition form a cross on the ground. At the rear of the cenotaph, we saw a wooden two-by-four etched with lettering: J.E. Bernier / 1906. Canadian Joseph Bernier visited here during his multi-year expedition to assert Canadian sovereignty over the entire Arctic archipelago.
Then came the belugas! We had climbed into zodiacs anticipating a short cruise among icebergs scattered along the cliff face. Suddenly, there they were, cavorting all around us. Veteran voyager David Freeze was driven to declare that he had never seen anything like it.

 DAY TWELVE -- Fort Ross

Early in the morning, having sailed eastward through Bellot Strait, the Ocean Endeavour reached Prince Regent Inlet. Starting at nine in the morning, we went ashore in zodiacs to visit Fort Ross. The site, so named by the Hudson’s Bay Company, comprises two weather-beaten wooden buildings. Erected in 1937, this was the HBC’s last-built fur-trade post. It proved so hard to reach that the Company shut it down in 1948, after two HBC men received no communications or supplies for three years.
Both HBC buildings have seen better days, but one of them, originally a storehouse, has been maintained. Inside we found the old familiar stove, table, chairs, and bunk beds. Inuit hunters from Taloyoak frequently shelter here. The second building, originally the manager’s house, is about thirty metres north. Polar bears have repeatedly ransacked the place, leaving broken windows, peeling wallpaper, wrecked armchairs, and scratches on the ceiling.
The HBC named this site in honour of John and James Clark Ross. Starting in 1829, they spent four winters trapped by the ice of Prince Regent Inlet. The two Rosses and their men hauled whaleboats past this location from the southern reaches of the Inlet. In August 1833, they managed to sail the boats out into Lancaster Sound and flag down a passing whaler. During the second winter, in 1831, James Clark Ross had sledged overland and marked the site of the Magnetic North Pole on the west coast of Boothia Peninsula.
Besides the two buildings, Fort Ross boasts several sites of interest. The first, to the southwest of the storehouse, is a series of stone-covered graves which contain the remains of several Inuit who worked with the HBC. The second is a sturdy memorial slab erected in 1979 by the descendants of Francis Leopold McClintock. A third feature of the site is McClintock’s Cairn, which stands at the highest point on a rocky ridge behind Fort Ross.
In the winter of 1858-’59, anyone standing beside that cairn would have been able to see the Fox, locked in the ice and battened down for the winter; and also a magnetic observatory roughly 200 metres from the ship, “built of ice sawed into blocks,” McClintock wrote, “there not being any suitable snow.” From here, travelling by dogsled, McClintock visited the west coast of King William Island, as specified by John Rae, and found the Victory Point Record left by the Franklin expedition.

The Ocean Endeavour sailed west from Fort Ross through Bellot Strait. At around 3:40 p.m. we passed Zenith Point on Boothia Peninsula, the northernmost point on the North American mainland. Most voyagers were up on deck as we travelled through the strait, which is 23 miles long, just over 2400 feet wide, and 35 metres deep in the middle. A mad sextet marked the occasion by building a human cairn. Maybe you had to be there.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Voyaging through history in the Northwest Passage

Looking back at our 2016 voyage Into the Northwest Passage, I find myself driven to juggling dates. Why? Well, because I love this image (left) of Dundas Harbour, which Sheena shot on Day Nine, and I think it deserves pride of place!

DAY NINE -- Dundas Harbour
Under grey skies, we landed zodiacs on the rocky beach in Dundas Harbour at ten in the morning. A scattering of people headed off to a Thule archaeological site, but most made for the historical RCMP post, long since abandoned. It faces southwest over Bernier Bay, so-called in commemoration of a 1906 stopover by Joseph Bernier, who planted Canadian flags throughout the Arctic.
At the RCMP site, several buildings remain standing: a detachment building (two-person living quarters), a separate house for Inuit hunters, two latrines, a couple of storehouses, and a dog corral. The main residence, which is marked by considerable graffiti, contains a few bottles and several books, the strangest of which is probably Dog Crusoe and His Master by Robert Michael Ballantyne.
The RCMP erected these buildings in 1923 to establish Canadian sovereignty over the north. On a hill overlooking the site stands a white-fenced cemetery containing two old graves marked by new gravestones. Buried here were constables Victor Maisonneuve (1899-1926) and William Robert Stephens (1902-1927). The first committed suicide, the second died while hunting.

The HBC rented the outpost briefly in the 1930s, and the RCMP maintained it until 1951, when it moved to the less isolated Craig Harbour. The Canadian Coast Guard maintains the cemetery. In 1944, during the return voyage of the St. Roch through the Northwest Passage, Henry Larsen called in here.
Afternoon took us into Croker Bay, where more than sixty voyagers piled into seven zodiacs to take a close look at Croker Glacier. A late afternoon fog lent an other-worldly air to the outing. And then came the polar plunge, when the bravest (craziest?) among us tested themselves by leaping or diving into the balmy, iceberg-cooled waters of Croker Bay.

The magic moment came when fifteen muskoxen, readily visible from Brother John Glacier, got spooked and ran hard across the cliff face. Forty or fifty of us were hiking along near the glacier front when this happened, and we all stood marvelling at the sight. We didn’t know what had scared them, but we were glad they ran in the direction they did, and not down the hill towards us. We resumed our trek along the glacier front, and a couple of staffers hurried ahead to check the final stream, to see if we could cross. They found a small river, recognized that crossing was impossible, and launched us on our return journey, back the way we had come.
The day had begun with a 5:30 wake-up call. Soon after 6:30, we were into the zodiacs and roaring down the spectacular Foulke Fjord that leads to Etah. In the mid-1850s, when Elisha Kent Kane got trapped in his wooden ship forty or fifty miles farther north, the Inuit who lived here became his allies. They helped him and his men survive two winters of dark, cold, scurvy, and amputations. (You can read all about it in Race to the Polar Sea.)
Today, Etah is essentially a hunting camp. We had enjoyed a 40-minute zodiac ride down the 12-kilometre-long fjord, admiring the cliffs and the wildlife – muskox, arctic hare, and gyre falcons. Later, returning to the ship, many trekkers also spotted a few seals. Here at Etah, we reached our “farthest north” for this voyage: 78 degrees, 22 minutes north. We were 27 miles from Canada, directly across from Cape Isabella on Ellesmere Island.

DAY EIGHT – Grise Fjord
A wave of laughter rolled through the afternoon audience when, halfway through the docudrama Passage, Inuit statesman Tagak Curley showed some impatience when teaching an actor playing explorer John Rae how to build an igloo. The film, based on my book Fatal Passage, marked a move to Plan B.
We had intended to visit to Grise Fjord on Ellesmere Island, Canada’s northernmost civilian settlement. In the 1950s, the Canadian government relocated three Inuit families here as an assertion of sovereignty over these environs, and today, about 165 people, mostly descendants of those displaced from northern Quebec, continue to reside here.
Stormy weather prevented our landing, and one adventurous staffer, musician Kevin Closs, took a dunking near shore after helping to deliver some gifts to the community. We did manage to clear Canadian customs by bringing aboard two officials, and then, after lunch, shifted to the film in which Rae emerges as a singular champion of the Inuit and Charles Dickens stands revealed as . . . . something else.
Towards the end of the film, our fellow voyager Tagak Curley manages to elicit an apology from a great-great-grandson of Dickens for the great author’s racist accusations. Earlier in the day, Curley had given a talk on the evolution of Nunavut, which encompasses 140,000 square miles of land. He traced the complex political negotiations that settled the Inuit land claims agreement and then the boundaries of the new territory.
That territory includes Grise Fjord, which was named by explorer Otto Sverdrup. At 76 degrees 24 minutes north, the village is 1544 kilometres from the North Pole. The original settlement, known as the Old Village, was located nine kilometres away, on an exposed point that can be reached only by water.The town moved when the RCMP arrived in the 1960s. Susan Aglukark had written a special song focusing on the relocation. Before resuming the voyage, Adventure Canada paid the community the agreed sum for the presentation the people had prepared, and also set out a collection box for donations from passengers.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Quick hits from voyaging in the Northwest Passage

A couple more quick hits (excerpts) from our 2016 Adventure Canada voyage Into the Northwest Passage . . .

 DAY FOUR – Karrat Fjord

At around 12:30, with the sun shining bright, the Ocean Endeavour entered one of the most spectacular fjords in Greenland. Karrat Fjord is almost 100 km long. We sailed up it to within 1.5 miles of Karrat Island, where we anchored among a field of icebergs. They came from an ice river called Rink’s Icebrae, which calves icebergs into the water from the Greenland Ice Cap, emitting the occasional cracking sound.
To land, voyagers split into three groups: long hikers, medium walkers, and beachcombers. About thirty people, led by the tireless Laura Baer, reached the top of a high ridge. The rest of us enjoyed the spectacular view along the edge of the plateau, and visited archaeological sites that included a Thule encampment and a 20th-century cemetery. This last comprised forty or fifty graves and a scattering of worn wooden crosses that lay on the ground. The only completely legible name was that of Hans Thomasen, though another cross bore the name Anna, and also a date: 1944.
Probably, the Greenlandic people of the nearby settlement used this place to bury their dead. That settlement, called Nugatsiaq, is west of the island at the foot of the mountain on the far shore of the fjord. Several staffers recalled seeing that settlement on a previous visit, though today, because of the icebergs, it became visible only to those on the high ridge. More than one visitor remarked on the silence and peacefulness of the island.  And for most voyagers, the return to the ship by zodiac involved a special treat as we wended among icebergs that sparkled in the sun.

DAY SIX – Kap York

Passenger Lorne Pendleton, noting that we could not see the Robert Peary obelisk because of the fog, suggested that the 28-metre memorial was cloaked in “a shroud of shame.” We were riding back to the ship in a zodiac after doing the alleged “medium walk” around a small lake.
Pendleton was alluding to a couple of facts that had been revealed yesterday at recap. In 1897, Peary had arrived here in a steamship. He hired all the able-bodied Inuit in the vicinity, and then made off with several massive chunks of a 10,000-year-old meteorite, which he sold to the Museum of Natural History in New York.
Peary also brought six Inuit to that metropolis. Four of them soon died. One (a young man) was shipped home, and an eight-year-old boy named Minik stayed behind, fooled into thinking that his father’s body had been buried with respect. In truth, scientists had defleshed that body and put the skeleton on display.
Later, Peary claimed he had reached the North Pole when he had not. None of this prevented the explorer’s family from memorializing him at Cap York with this giant needle, which is topped with a massive “P.”  (Pix by Sheena Fraser McGoogan)