In 2010, bestselling author Kathleen Winter is invited to go to a place where an imaginary world intersects with the real; a place where time flows differently from the linear way in which we have been trained to behave down here, in the southern world.
It is a journey across the storied Northwest Passage – which Kathleen Winter admits is a name not written on world maps; it is an idea rather than a place.
“Even those who had travelled before with our ship had never made this precise journey. We were planning, in the words of shipboard historian, to essentially follow Roald Amundsen’s first successful route through the Northwest Passage, but anything could happen; weather or ice could intervene, and the ship might be forced to change its planned course at any time.”
The timing seemed perfect. Her daughters were no longer helplessly young, and recalling the advice her friend Denise once gave her – “One thing I’ve learned is, always be ready to accept an invitation if it means you get to travel somewhere” – Kathleen Winter was determined to set out on this once-in-a-lifetime life-changing expedition.
Thrilled with taking a journey to any kind of frontier, let alone one infused with ice, sea and solitude, Kathleen Winter gets ready for her epic journey with a disparate group encompassing marine scientists, historians, archaeologists, anthropologists, and curious passengers.
Armed with her husband’s old duct-taped Helly Hansen raincoat, a little black dress, and a few other items suggested by the expedition leaders, Kathleen Winter begins her adventure, one which she never before imagined she’d ever have the opportunity to take, and one that she envisions will activate something inside of her that had long lain dreaming.
And, it does.
Every sensory experience awakens her inner dialogue. The rocking of the ship gives Kathleen a feeling, of land troubles falling away, dissolving. Without a line or corner in a wave, she feels there is no way for cares of the world to hook or snag you.
“Floating up the southwest coast of Greenland toward the villages of Sisimiut, Ilulissat and Upernavik was an extension of that healing journey…unmoored and heading for the unknown.”
In exploring the Northwest Passage, Kathleen winter is able to explore her own identity. As she gets in touch with her inner thoughts, she realizes that she feels more at home in the north than she has ever felt anywhere else.
“ In Newfoundland other kids had sensed I was a stranger; I’d not known my grandparents or experienced rootedness. But on Mittimatalik’s beach I felt land’s gravity reach and speak to me in no one’s terms but mine and its own.”
From Greenland to Baffin Island and all along the passage, Winters bears witness to the north's new order – where polar bears mate with grizzlies, creating a new hybrid species; where the earth is on the cusp of yielding so much buried treasure that five nations poised to claim sovereignty of the land; and where the local Inuit population struggles to navigate the tension between taking part in the new global economy and defending their traditional way of life.
“Greenland towns have fresh markets where fishermen and hunters get a fair price for their wild catches. But Inuit people in Canada do not sell their catch. They share it.”
What a beautiful journey we are taken on, with boundless reflections of the earth, our actions, and their consequences. We thank Kathleen Winter for taking us on this poetic journey with her, one that is captivating to our senses, arresting to our soul, like a classical concerto. It is in sorts a memoir, a travel log, perhaps even a documentation of nature and history, an ode to the past, a sombre soliloquy to the future. Her inward journey resonates and her writing style is so visually stunning that if you blink you will miss it.
“While she sang, I prayed we would not have to shoot the bear. What right did we have to kill an animal who had been minding his own business, here on his lonely island away from all white people except for Franklin’s dead men and our invading selves? The last thing any of us wanted was to end the bear’s magnificent life.”
In Annabel, Kathleen Winter laid the foundations for a conversation about dual-gendered identity. In Boundless, the author opens up a platform for another poignant discussion – one about Canada’s north. A metaphor perhaps for having no bounds, borderless, infinite and vast, Boundless goes far beyond being simply a non-fiction novel that attempts to enlighten. It touches something deep within our psyche, forcing us to take notice. Boundless is a journey of discovery – one that Kathleen Winter understands quite intimately, because whilst making the route towards the Northwest Passage, she also discovers a route into her inner self.
“Somehow everything I’d learned about life pointed to an idea that to receive something you had to earn it. I’d never thought of myself as a tree, a graceful being visited by songbird, starlight, and rain, and which people love for itself, not for what it does or how smart it is, or how dispensable. I was used to making myself indispensable in one arena or another, but Nathan’s song turned me into that tree.”Boundless is one of the books on the CBC Books 2014 Fall Reading List.
5 out of 5 Sukasa Stars
Boundless is published by House of Anansi Press Inc.