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Book Review: Canoeing with the Cree by Eric Sevareid

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Eric Sevareid once took a journey, one which most normal individuals wouldn't even dream up. For his buddy, Walter Port, and him, the dangers and terrors of an outdoors adventure were just what they were looking for. Canoeing with the Cree lets us in on that adventure, in a non-fiction account that sees Sevareid giving a narrative of their encounters with not only the treacherousness of the wild but the coming of age of two boys living on their own, sharing their lives with the Cree Indians, and having to survive each other.

Sevareid begins his book immediately, starting in on Walter Port's plan of taking a 2250-mile canoe ride from Minneapolis to the Hudson Bay in Canada. Instead of giving a vivid description of Port and Sevareid, we are thrown right into the preparations needed to start the journey. At first, I felt a little disappointed that we didn't get a chance to meet our two protagonists. But throughout Sevareid's depiction of their journey, we are presented with different qualities of both Port and Sevareid. Instead of throwing character traits at the audience all at once, Sevareid lets the situations that happen to them explain their personalities. At one point, a minor disappointment during the journey prompts a fight between the two; the length of time that they had spent together had brought about layers of animosity that came to a head. I felt like this was an important and vital decision by Sevareid – choosing to let he and his friend be fleshed out by their actions gives an added depth to how their surroundings influenced their lives.

Sevareid has a real knack for providing detailed imagery of the environment. He takes more time to describe the beautiful landscape and the rivers themselves. I liked this a lot, and I thought it showed how much of an appreciation Sevareid gained for the beauty of our lands. One of the most touching parts I found in the account was Sevareid's description of saving animals stuck in the mud of a river. Sevareid talks of hunting animals for food, but when it comes to suffering wildlife, Sevareid and Port show quite an endearing quality in their rescue. They only kill what is necessary and appreciate the life of an animal.

The duo's appreciation of the Cree Indians is also apparent through Sevareid's writing. Sevareid makes it known that if it weren't for the Cree's help, Port and Sevareid would have died in the unforgiving climes. It is interesting how Sevareid depicts the Indians, a good cultural study from someone who does not have the same background. He gives them a strong compliment; their ability to perform in an environment that can very easily break a man is impressive.

As for those who are not accustomed to boating or canoeing, I found it a little hard at times to understand what Sevareid was explaining at certain points. I have never been canoeing, so I know very little lingo when it comes to portaging or even the techniques of rowing. That is by far no fault of the author, for Sevareid did not set out to make a book that caters to the inexperienced canoeing individual. It is just helpful to know going into the book that one may need to do a little research on the vocabulary of canoeing and boating, so that one can get the full gist of what Sevareid is making note of.

While at times Canoeing with the Cree can seem a little stale in activity, Sevareid has put together a comprensive account of his travels to the Hudson Bay. Through all of this, he has learned what it is like to really live alone, without the busyness of the city. When all is said and done, it seems Sevareid is glad to have both accomplished the trip and had it over. It must have been both rewarding and nerve-wracking, but Sevareid and Port accomplished a real adventure. While two teens have since done the same journey as Port and Sevareid, (not discounting their own tenacity and bravery) it would seem as though they had it a bit easier than the original travelers. One must admire the fact that Sevareid and Port stuck with their dream, focusing on the positive aspect of what an educational experience the voyage could be rather than the tragedies that could befall them. Sevareid and Port took the trip for the fun of the experience, rather than the recognition that most people strive for now, and with Sevareid's book so modestly accounting the journey, commendation is in order.

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