Ada Blackjack: A True Story of Survival in the Arctic
4 journalers for this copy...
The whole story of this expedition seems to weird to be true. Vilhjalmur Stefansson, the man who'd organized the Karluk expedition (and was suspected by some of the other survivors of having deliberately left the ship on a hunting trip to avoid being trapped in the ice) decided that he could claim Wrangel Island for Canada or Great Britain (even though it was pretty clearly a Russian possession) if he could land a group that would winter over and form a community. He chose his team in a rather whimsical manner, claiming to have sifted thousands of applications where in reality he'd pretty much chosen the first four guys he saw. He didn't accompany them, and provided very little in the way of guidance, and - according to this book, anyway - he sounds like a con man of the first water...
The book shifts between the expedition plans and the backgrounds of the Wrangel Island party, focusing primarily on Ada Blackjack herself. She had a rather difficult life, having two children die young and the third with a chronic illness, not to mention a husband who abandoned her and considerable financial difficulties. She was hired for the expedition as seamstress (keeping the winter clothing, tents, sledge-harnesses, etc. in order was a major requirement), but she was reluctant to go - she was terrified of polar bears, and didn't want to be away from her family for that long either. She was told there would be other native families on the expedition so she wouldn't be the only woman OR the only native, and eventually this - and the money, which was more than she'd have been able to earn any other way - convinced her.
And then she found herself on the island with no other native families at all, just the four men. At first the whole situation terrified her so much that she underwent a kind of "Arctic psychosis", behaving oddly, refusing to work or communicate, wandering off from camp (despite her terror)... The men had no idea how to cope with this situation, an alternately hysterical and near-catatonic woman who wouldn't even perform the simplest tasks; their methods of dealing with her sound pretty awful, but in the circumstances it may have saved her life, and eventually she got over the cabin fever or whatever it was, and took up her needle and her role in the expedition.
But the whole thing was ill-planned, and the island a desperately difficult place to live without proper training (and not that easy even for experts in Arctic survival). And it was swarming with polar bears, which meant that they had to be on the alert at all times. The first winter they managed to cope moderately well, but when the season turned and there was no relief party, they began to get worried. [Episodes such as the Karluk survivor's visit to their old camp-site - complete with the graves of those who hadn't survived - did little to improve the mood.] And when one of their number began to sicken, they decided that someone would have to try and go for help... Three men left, leaving the ill man behind with Ada to tend him, but they were never heard of again, and when the sick man died, Blackjack had to fend for herself...
While some accounts describe Blackjack's ordeal as "two years as a castaway", in fact she spent most of those two years as part of the team; it was only the last couple of months in which she was entirely alone. Still, to be by one's self on a barren Arctic island swarming with polar bears, and with dwindling supplies, is not a very cheerful situation.
Rescue did arrive, and Ada became something of a celebrity for a time; the book goes into this part of her life too, with more ups and downs in store for her. Sadly, the founder of the expedition - and instigator of so many tragedies - was never brought to book for them; some people are just too slippery, I guess...
Fascinating & frustrating: I agree that Vilhjalmur Stefansson (born William Stephenson) sounds like a slippery character. At the very least, expecting a group of people to live off the land by hunting but not making sure they knew how to shoot, hunt, & trap beforehand doesn't seem very responsible. Today the disaster that was the Wrangel Island expedition would have "lawsuit" written all over it. :(
"Did you carve this?"
Tas did not turn. "Yes," he said, reluctantly. "I have to leave it."
"But, Tas, why?"
Tas squared his shoulders as though firming some resolve. But still he did not turn. "Because the shepherd said that it could only be used once. Thats why I can't get the pipe to play that song-or any song. I've used the magic." He took a deep breath and went on. "And he said that once I found the magic I had the pass the pipe on." he paused and then he did turn, a scamp's humor in his long brown eyes. "It's going to be a long winter. I'm going to leave it here for someone else to find." "Snowsong" by Nancy Varian Berberick
Found a book? Find the magic! Welcome to BookCrossing!! If you are already a member, "Hello!", if you have only just found this lovely site, welcome!
Congratulations on finding a released BookCrossing book! You can now register on the site, if you want to. It's free to register, but of course you can remain anon. It's up to you!
If you do decide to join, please add me as your referring member, AlterEgoZoe. Thanks!
Most of all, enjoy the book, and enjoy BookCrossing!