Magazine article Americas (English Edition)

Getting the Know-How

Magazine article Americas (English Edition)

Getting the Know-How

Article excerpt

"I have shaved and combed my hair and eaten a little...."

A thin man crouched under a tree. Shivering. Licking crumbs from the folds of a piece of paper. It was snowing, but not really cold, just at the freezing point. But Raymond Patterson, twenty-eight, was soaking wet, miserable, and disgusted.

Jack London adventure stories had painted a romantic picture of the North. So Patterson had left England in the mid-1920s and bought a homestead in the Canadian west. His goal: to conquer the wild.

"...--now I am going to sleep--I hardly feel anxious because I know you love me and it seems a protection somehow."

The little diary was a letter to Mother. As the only child of a divorced woman, he felt a duty to report his daily adventures. But now his back was up against the wall.

He'd set out from northern Alberta on a canoe trip to the Falls of the Nahanni in the Northwest Territories in the spring of 1927. To find the legendary Nahanni Gold. Buy Mother a castle. Marry that beautiful woman on whose shoulder he had fallen asleep at the opera at Covent Garden.

But after this turn of events, he was struggling to survive. He'd taken his chances coming on this trip, but what of it? Never having canoed a day in his life, he had learned quickly. Same for hunting, tracking, and many other skills. He was strong, intelligent, a quick study, and willing to work hard to find adventure.

But then he'd made a few mistakes, late in the season. Errors in judgement, miscalculations, cutting things a little tight. As summer turned to fall and water levels dropped, he sold the canoe at Fort Nelson and headed cross-country to his homestead on foot. Just a little hike of some 190 miles, with a stop for supplies, was the plan.

"Monday--September 19--Hit trail with a pack. Camped at edge of muskeg damned tired and had to dig well in moss for water. Shot partridge."

The topography had looked easy, flat. But the trail was not clearly marked and the muskeg sucked at his feet.

"Thursday--September 22--Reached Fish Lake--no Indians--trails forking all over the place.... Have done my best and must stand by it now. Rain makes things miserable and mist makes it hard to get an idea of direction."

He could have waited for that party going out on horses a few days later, but he was in a hurry. …

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