Just back from the annual gathering of the Creative Non-Fiction Collective’s meeting at the Banff Centre in Alberta. It’s a fabulous venue for artists of every stripe and we had an invigorating get-together.
One of our events is the Saturday evening social when we select the winner of the CN-FC Reader’s Choice award. Nominators have about two minutes to read a selected passage and then a secret ballot decides the outcome.
The worthy winner was Susan Olding for her essays from Pathologies
(Freehand). The other nominees were
Wade Davis for The Wayfarers (Anansi)
Sharron Proulx-Turner for her essay from Double Lives: Writing and Motherhood
(McGill-Queen’s University Press)
Paul Nicklen for Polar Obsession (Focal Point)
Shawna Lemay for Calm Things (Palimpsest)
Kaitlin Fontana for “The Flight Album” (in The Walrus)
Eufemia Fantetti for “Alphabet Autobiografica" (in Event)
As this blog is mainly about wild things and conservation it will come as no surprise that Polar Obsession caught my ear and eye. Of course one must avoid clichés when possible – like the plague as it were - but this book is more about photographs than text. The text is only used to explain the photos, and these are certainly worth the standard thousand words. Indeed some are worth at least twice as much. It is difficult to choose one passage of four or five paragraphs to read in the space of about two minutes, and I struggled between the account of how Nicklen got the photos of the massed narwhals in Arctic waters and his encounter with the southern ocean’s top predator of penguins, the leopard seal.
I cannot quote at length, even from what I read, but this was what I started with. It came after a brief introduction about how Nicklen had entered the water and stood his ground when challenged by a huge alpha female seal weighing about 500 kg. The seal had offered him a live penguin to eat, but of course he had ignored her, and the bird had escaped.
“I am always reluctant to anthropomorphize an animal’s behaviour, but I could swear that she flashed me a look of disgust as she sped past me to snatch the escaping penguin. I believe that she was trying to feed me penguins because she realized that I was an absolutely useless predator in her ocean, and my ineptness at securing a meal agitated her.”
For lovers of adventure stories about wild things and wild places, or would-be wildlife photographers, this is one to add to the collection.