Book Review: Crocodiles and Ice by Jon Turk

A journey into Jon Turk’s Deep Wild world

In his new book, Canoe & Kayak contributing editor Jon Turk reflects on how a lifetime of expeditions have shaped a personal "consciousness revolution"—a shift towards a reciprocal relationship with the natural world he's convinced all of humanity must embrace if we're ever to enjoy a "peaceful, equitable and healthy world."

Crocodiles and Ice (Oolichan Books, $19.95) weaves Turk's lifetime of experiences—from being arrested and held at gunpoint while hitchhiking across the Middle East at age 18 to experiencing a shamanic healing ceremony in Kamchatka—into three of his most recent expeditions: Island-hopping by sit-on-top kayak in Melanesia; skiing and sea kayaking around Ellesmere Island; and cycling to the birthplace of the Dalai Llama in Tibet. Turk, 71, argues that life is best experienced when you "turn off your think-too-much-know-it-all brain and seek the primeval joys—companionship, art and adventure." He insists that "magic"—in the form of individual and shared experiences in the "Deep Wild" gives you power. As much as our modern lives suggest otherwise, tools and technology—possessions and wealth—don't define the human experience.

Readers who have embarked on their own voyages of discovery will relate to Turk's fascination for life in the wild, where life is held in a delicate "feedback loop where survival [is] so tactilely and immediately connected with the ebb and flow of nature's cycles." My favorite part of Crocodiles and Ice is the section describing Turk's 2011 Ellesmere circumnavigation with photographer Erik Boomer, a man less than half his age. Here, he explores the impacts of climate change in the Arctic and learns the meaning of patience while waiting out an impenetrable ice jam in Nares Strait. When it comes to provoking thoughts about what it means to be an explorer in the 21st century, this chapter goes far beyond Turk's award-winning expedition travelogue in Canoe & Kayak magazine.

Clearly, this type of insight comes only in the sunset years of a lifetime of adventuring. Yet Turk is humble enough to learn from his traveling companions—Boomer in Canada's far north, and his Chinese friend Ma Lubin, whom he calls "a Falstaff-like observer of societies gone mad." In the end, he travels to northern British Columbia, where the 1,000-year-old remains of an indigenous traveler were recently discovered in a melting icefield. Turk's reflections here are a good summary of the book: "I wanted to feel the spirit of those forgotten times," he writes.

–Read an exclusive excerpt of Crocodiles and Ice

–Read Jeff Moag's Unfiltered interview with Jon Turk

–Check out a conversation between Turk and Erik Boomer in the wake of their 2011 Ellesmere expedition