Pelham native Adam Shoalts back in town to tell Arctic tales
BY JOHN CHICK
Special to the VOICE
One of Pelham’s more prominent natives — and arguably the Voice’s most famous alumnus — has a new book out.
Adam Shoalts’ tome, “Beyond the Trees: A Journey Alone Across Canada’s Arctic” is available now, and his promotional tour includes a stop at the community centre this Thursday. It’s a popular homecoming the renowned naturalist and former Voice columnists has become used to.
“I’ve done about five previous talks at the Pelham Library going back more than a decade now,” Shoalts said. “I think after the fourth talk, the library decided they needed to move to a bigger venue, as the audiences were growing bigger and bigger. So last time I spoke in Pelham the library moved it to the Legion, and now it’s at the new community centre.”
The stopover will include a free author talk, a slideshow/video presentation of Shoalts’ journeys, and a book signing.
Shoalts, 33, says his evolution from Voice nature columnist from 2007-12 to best-selling author — and being called one of this country’s greatest living explorers, by Canadian Geographic, and “Canada’s Indiana Jones,” by the Toronto Star — just sort of happened.
“I started doing expeditions on a bigger and bigger scale, first with my childhood friends, and then increasingly solo, as the expeditions turned from weeks to months. Along the way, my journeys seemed to spark more and more interest, and somehow, before I knew it, it was no longer the Voice covering me, but the Star, CBC, the Guardian, the BBC and CNN.”
His love of the outdoors began in Fenwick at a young age, when the forested area out his back door became a captivating playground, where his imagination roamed free, and a desire to further explore Canada’s vast open spaces took root.
“Those woods were my classroom,” he said. “That’s where I learned the skills I still use now. My friends and I had many adventures in those woods.”
How the woodlands of Pelham prepare a man to come face-to-face with an 800-pound muskox, light-years from the nearest populated settlement is unknown, but it’s an experience Shoalts recalls in the new book from his expedition along the Mackenzie River in the Northwest Territories, and was excerpted in last week’s Voice.
“I’d found them to be mostly gentle giants that left me alone as I camped and paddled along,” he writes in Beyond the Trees. “But here along the Mackenzie, the more hospitable climate allowed the muskox to grow much larger. The big bull that had stirred me from my sleep was the largest I’d ever seen.”
Fortunately, Shoalts’ “banger” was enough to frighten off the great beast, who retreated by “smashing and crashing through the fallen spruces as if they were mere matchsticks.”
While most folks might lament the cold, still loneliness of Canada’s north — perhaps instead opting for alcoholic beverages on a beach or exploring some foreign city as an adventure—Shoalts says he feels right at home in what can best be described as God’s country.
“Just soaking in the majesty of a truly wild place, hundreds of miles from any other person, where the wolves still roam free and the tundra seems to go on forever, where the lakes appear bottomless and the forest as old as the hills…that to me, the land itself, is the most special thing.”
The latest book is Shoalts’ third, and his second about his Canada’s north. The first, 2016’s “Alone Against the North,” elicited praise from some high places.
“Adam Shoalts, 21st century explorer, calmly describes the things he has endured that would drive most people to despair, or even madness,” Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield wrote. “Rare insight into the heart and mind of an explorer, and the insatiable hunger for the unknown that both inspires and drives one to the edge … a firsthand look into the heart of a truly brave man.”
The accolades are pretty cool, but Shoalts says he’s just doing what he loves.
“Nature and the outdoors has always held such fascination for me,” he said. “Eastern cougars, wolves that look you in the eye, lakes with no names, wild rivers with falls that roar like thunder, a land where sun still shines at midnight, wolverines that roam free, how could anyone not find that alluring?”
His middle book, “A History of Canada in 10 Maps,” focused on the history of the country using maps accounting for First Nations, the Vikings, and the War of 1812.
Asked if he’s interested in writing another book about the last, combining Niagara’s own important place Canadian history and its unique ecosystem, Shoalts said maybe.
“I think history is very important,” he said. “But the new book is pretty much straight adventure, although I do sprinkle some northern history and lore. There’s tales of lost ruins, legends, vanished explorers, and that sort of thing. I don’t want to give it all away though, people will have to buy the book. Niagara is one of the most fascinating places in all of Canada. I’m thinking of maybe writing another history book in the future. But at this point, I’m focused on more wilderness journeys.”
That said, Shoalts believes conservation remains an important issue on the peninsula.
“I think it’s important in part to preserve rural communities and forests. Without them I don’t think I would ever have been launched on this career path,” said Shoalts, who now lives in Norfolk County.
“I like to think my heart is still in Pelham.”
Shoalts reads from Beyond the Trees, this Thursday, Oct. 10, starting at 7 PM, at the community centre. Tickets are $10, through the Pelham Library.