Jonathan Raban sets out in his 35 foot sailboat to trace the route followed by Captain Vancouver as he travelled the coast exploring and checking up on the data supplied by the very first explorers.
Much of Raban's journey takes place in fog, which lends a real atmosphere to the landscapes and seascapes he's passing through. He has a keen eye for detail (though as a determined landlubber, I did occasionally get lost in his detailed descriptions of boating conditions!). His descriptions of landscape though are wonderfully evocative:
Away to the west, a long white bolster of low cloud lay north to south down Hecate Strait, but in my neck of the woods the morning was full of dewy brilliance in perfect visibility. I could see Alaska ahead, fifty or sixty miles off, a line of squat purple blisters on the horizon.
Raban interweaves the narrative of his own voyage with that of Vancouver's, alongside explorations of native American life and culture in the region.I found it particularly interesting to read about how the creatures in native mythology that seem totally supernatural to us, would have seemed just part of nature to the original tribes-people telling the stories. There are several examples in this book of the raven stories of the Tlingit tribe.
Passage to Juneau by Jonathan Raban
Vivian Faith Prescott is an Alaska based poet who blogs about Alaskan culture at Planet Alaska. You can read some of her poems on Bolts of Silk.
Rather frivolously, when I was reading the early part of this book, where Raban is sailing near Skagit and Puget Sound, I kept expecting him to find Racer, the brave and intrepid bunny from House of Rabbits to be paddling around the water in his little boat.
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