Thursday, January 7, 2010

Book Tour: Hearts of Courage

In the arctic one learns nature still rules over humanity. Survival even in an everyday sense cannot entirely be taken for granted and one soon realizes the amount of resilience, adoption, and ingenuity it takes to live in the north. Join the true "Survivor" reality show!

I recall my early experiences with the north. The earliest being the flight up first to Churchill, MB in the late 1980s-early nineties and then to Arviat, and Kugaaruk {Pelly Bay}, Nunavut in the mid to late nineties when Nunavut was still part of the Northwest Territories. Even then the aircrafts were smaller because no jet service could fly in to places with such short runways. Hawkers and Saabs became part of our lingo. When you live in a fly- in community which essentially relies on air travel you become far more familiar with aviation.

In my recollection even in the 80s and 90s turbulence rattled these buckets of metal set aloft, as though they were held together by duct tape and loose bolts. I may be exaggerating and of course today many communities are serviced by newer aircrafts {ATRs for example were meant to be better suited to the arctic freeze} some even became jet serviced. I also recall many layovers in Yellowknife due to cancelled flights and returns to Yellowknife after hours of flying because landing home in Kugaaruk or Kugluktuk had proved impossible. We also experienced several rough landings, the details of which would make your hair stand on end! My point: flying in the arctic continues to be a precarious endeavour--especially in the winter--and nature is always in control!

If this has been the modern day northern experience imagine the experiences of the 1940s. Arctic aviators and pilots of the time were truly braving perilous flights of adventure and sometimes these adventures turned to disaster and fatality! Hearts of Courage by John M. Tippets relates the harrowing story of the Gillam plane crash, a story of just such a perilous flight piloted by Harold Gillam--a seasoned bush pilot. This is a tale of survival in the frozen wilderness of Alaska which is both frightening and truly inspiring. Set against the war times of the 1940s Tippet writes in the voice of his father, Joe Tippets, recounting his true life experience as a passenger of the Gillam crash. Lost in the winter wilds of Alaska for four weeks, Joe-- along with his fellow survivors--braved the cold and snow, frost bite and injuries, starvation and ever-threatening despair as he fought the elements to stay alive waiting, praying, hoping to be rescued!

"We wrapped our arms around each other and huddled together in the single sleeping bag we had, realizing we must preserve every bit of our precious body heat. There was very little rest. We had to take turns waking each other up to see if the other was still alive. Sometimes we froze together, and it took a tremendous effort to become separated again.
When thoughts came to me that Sandy might die, I was seized with panic. We needed each other. If one should go, the other would surely die, and likewise the other two men we had left behind."
(Tippets 2008: 63)

This intimate connection for survival is an instinct the north has always bred but to imagine such a situation of dependence for life itself is something I cannot pretend to know and my mind often meanders down this road and I contemplate how and if I could muster such superhuman strength and courage to carry on as the cold invades my bones and desperation soon sets in.

Joe had left his wife, Alta, and young son, John, waiting for him in Anchorage. With bated breath, prayers, hope, and miraculous faith Alta waited for her husband’s return despite the halt of the search after three unsuccessful weeks, and despite the naysayers believing her delusional to continue to hold out unwavering faith in her husband’s survival.

Hearts of Courage is the amazing true story of perseverance and resilience in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. It is a story of faith, of human endurance, and the instinct to survive. A fascinating and inspiring tale you will not forget it is a story of discovering and coming to “a fuller appreciation of the worth and true character in man.”

“I realized, as never before, that no matter how much money a man has in the bank, or how well he is doing, or how big a job he has, nothing really counts but character.” (Tippets 2008: 105)

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1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the wonderful review of John's book.

    I hope those kids get to behaving themselves for you. While I loved having my girls home for two weeks, it was nice when they returned to school and my schedule got back to normal.