Monthly Archives: August 2014

November 5, 2014

Today I am updating this page — the book is now coming out.  I am told it will start shipping November 10.  I have not seen it yet myself in the final form, so I look forward to that.  It is a hard cover book, and your best bet is to order it directly from the publisher, wait for it to show up at the library,  or — better yet — to buy it from your local independent bookseller.  Those stores need us.  Imagine losing them.  Not good.  This is to be a hard cover book, and it is not cheap.  I have no say in that part of the process, and no slice of the $$ pie at this point.  I do however stand firmly behind the decisions and experience of the people at Wilfrid Laurier University Press who make the calls on pricing and marketing.  It is a tough business.

Here is the announcement from August:

Amidst the aftermath of the recent fire, and as we look ahead at the effects that our losses will have on the future of our life at the Hoarfrost, there are a few bright spots.  This announcement is one of them.

In February 2002 I began an annual series of four solo trips by dogteam, heading out once each winter from our home at the Hoarfrost for a journey to one of the four cardinal directions:  South in 2002, East in 2003, North in 2004, and West in 2005.  I was at that point in my life just winding up a long and rewarding run as an Iditarod, Beargrease, and Yukon Quest competitor.  The non-competitive “compass point trips” were a long-held dream of my life as a musher. It was time for me to make that dream come true, and for four years, with the generous support of my family, I did.

Another part of that dream was to write a book about the trips — a book I envisioned as a rambling mix of travel journal, musings, observation and reflection.  Over the years 2002-2008, the book gradually took shape as a manuscript.   In about 2009 I began “shopping it around” with agents and publishers.  As is common experience with such efforts, there were many dead ends, long waits, some days of sheer frustration, and many rejections varying in tone from kind to terse.

Finally in October of 2012 there came a break.  A chance Yellowknife reunion with Mike English, a professor of Geography at Wilfrid Laurier University, sparked a conversation about my writing. I had known Mike for years from our time together up at the Daring Lake research camp, and he has always spoken kindly of my 1994 book North of Reliance.  When I told him of the new manuscript and the four trips, he offered to make a connection on my behalf with WLU Press.  That led to a query, a conversation, and at last a signed contract.

And now, after years and much effort, it is done.  The book has taken on a life of its own, as such projects do, and it is about to see the light of day.  Many people have worked to move it ahead, and I am happy to announce that it will be published this autumn.

The publicity people at the press encouraged me to send out a note and to post a link to the book’s online announcement here at the blog.  Not being too tech-savvy, I have followed the instructions to create the link.  I hope I have succeeded.

Here is the link (if I have done this properly):  Kinds of Winter

Title: Kinds of Winter

Author: Dave Olesen

Publisher: WLU Press at Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo Ontario  (Life Writing Series)

Issued in print and electronic formats.
ISBN 978-1-77112-118-7 (bound).—ISBN 978-1-77112-069-2 (pdf).—
ISBN 978-1-77112-070-8 (epub)

Thank you to everyone who has helped this project come to this announcement.


Now it is mid-August. I guess it is time to say something here. Cool weather has already come back, and some darkness in the middle of the night. The nightmarish heat and thick smoke of July is mostly past.  Night before last a downpour came, with thunder and sheets of rain – the first real rain we have had since sometime in the autumn of 2013.

Last night the ENR crew of 3 came by in their boat, to coil up hoses and pack sprinklers, stow the broken fire pump and shake hands again, inquire about the renovations at the big log workshop where we will winter.  Then off down the lake to stay ahead of a forecast overnight wind storm.

“Nature bats last.”

Easy to say, glibly and nonchalantly, with the right tone and the right stance. Wise words. Wisdom a little more difficult to acknowledge when she does step up to the plate and knock one’s entire life off kilter.

On the morning of the 4th of July I was up at the Daring Lake camp about 150 miles northwest of our home. It was just another day of Husky flying, with a wolf study and a grad student, checking out wolf den sites and looking to come up with a pup count at each of them. It was a summer morning, with a fresh breeze piping up from the east and a bit of tundra coolness in the air after the heat and flies of the day before. I sat in the office tent and tossed a back-and-forth Skype communication with Kristen, who was alone at the Hoarfrost River.

04/07/2014 7:28:21 AM

Dave: good morning, how is it there. cooler today up here with an east wind and no smoke.

Kristen: In a word. Smokey.  a bit of wind here too but I can only see a couple miles out on the lake. have a good day.

Dave: love you. flight plan on file here.

Kristen: OK xo love U 2~ me

And by that night, everything had changed. Our beloved house was gone, with everything in it. 17 years, 20-some since the first logs of its walls were cut and hauled and peeled and stacked. Gone too, the beautiful log guest cabin, apple of my log-builder’s eye and home to so many people doing so many different things over the 10 years of its life — for these buildings do seem to have had lives — gone, two sheds stuffed with the coming winter’s firewood — gone. The rest of it given up for lost, saved by sprinklers and hoses and lake water pumped at the eleventh hour.

By mid-morning on the fourth of July, two hours into the day, there was a full gale blowing here. Winds gusting over 30, peak gusts above 40 knots. The smoldering taiga-edge fire I so casually described in my blog posting of July 1, poised about 6 nautical miles northeast of us, began to run. Really move, as fires rarely do here. The swath of blackened ground lying northeast of us now has to be seen to be believed. That fire ran down those long sloping valleys stuffed with a hundred years or more of dry fuel. Ran and blew and must have also tossed some burning embers well ahead of itself to leap and speed its movement.

Kristen knew early on in that day that all bets were off. Despite her calls for help no one came or responded. “We have you on our radar” “We’ll send a plane out this afternoon to have a look” “The remote sensing image still shows the fire 9 kilometers from you.”

By mid afternoon she had fought her battle with every bit of strength and savvy she had, our little pump and hose “like a weasel pissing” by the time the long run of hose had reached north of the house.  The flames were in sight, a few meters back from the house, with the guest cabin already beginning to burn. She was driving the skid-steer, dumping sand in a last-ditch line south of the house, when she saw a hare bolting from the forest edge, and it struck her that this was it. She did what any sensible person – all alone after many hours of exhausting struggle and mounting fear and unheeded calls for assistance – would have done in her situation. She switched from fight to flight, turned the entire kennel of 44 dogs free to fend for themselves, took her camera and a laptop and her little carbine .44, a handheld phone receiver, left the communication systems turned on up at the doomed house, somehow wrestled the boat into the crashing waves and around the tip of the island to the lee side, and from the boat began sending messages and trying to make still more phone calls. The subject line alone still gives me a gulp whenever I see it, still sitting down there below a long line of condolence and assistance messages in the Inbox.





Nature had stepped up to the plate.

Times like these, the remoteness of this place comes into sharp focus. Water bomber planes were inbound from Yellowknife, flying an hour or more with the 35-knot headwind right on their nose, following the “bird dog” lead plane that would show them where to drop, but by the time they arrived there was nothing to be seen but a solid wall of smoke. Hot brown thick smoke, the smoke of a raging inferno. There would be no drop. It was all going. There was nothing more to be done as Kristen sat helplessly in the boat, still trying to send communications, talking to the bird dog pilot on 126.7, trying to keep the dogs from fighting as they crowded around the boat out on the tip of the rock island. Our nearest neighbors Roger and Libby and their two teenagers Gus and Winnie arrived, after a harrowing 20-mile journey hugging the coastline in their two small boats, the waves of McLeod Bay huge and wild and white-topped. Roger went ashore with Gus and Winnie, and a 100-pound bottle of propane exploded almost at the same time they disappeared into the smoke.  Thankfully, they all emerged.  That was that.  No one with an ounce of sense was going back in there now. Then, a while later, a lone helicopter with 3 already exhausted fire fighters called in from another fire a hundred miles west, one pump, a length of hose, a few sprinklers. The pilot just at the brink of turning back in the smoke, his visibility down to a matter of a few yards. Then through the smoke he caught a glimpse of an empty fuel drum at the cache, and he kept coming. Had he not made it in, I doubt we would have any buildings at all left now.  By the time I taxiied in from the east, having landed several miles down the coast where I could still safely do so, there were sprinklers raining cold lake water down on the perimeter.  The wind had died.  It was nearly midnight. 

At about 1 in the morning, a final image of that night which I will never forget: one of the young firefighters went up to the smoldering house and heated his hot-dog dinner up on a stick.  I chided him about it, and he looked sheepish. “It’s o.k., really, you go ahead and heat your hot dog up.  May as well get one last bit of use out of the old place…”  We both laughed softly.

We have our shop, our sauna, our barn and sheds, our tools and boats and the planes and the office of our little flying and guiding business. But the heart and soul of the place is gone. The house is just a pile of charred and twisted rubble. I can scarcely bring myself to walk up there these days, so mostly I don’t. It will be a while. That lovely, quirky, cozy log and timber castle we had built – a thousand or so square feet in three stories, and all the special “stuff” of each of us four – books, carvings, photos, gifts… All the warts and foibles of my amateur carpentry, which even my most talented friends could not completely cover over as we built the place. The kitchen and its nooks and crannies and treasures, the clothes in long drawers beneath our beds upstairs.

Time to pick up the pieces.   Hell, it’s not like we are the first people to ever lose a house in this world.  A long-ago friend of mine sent what words he could offer. He called up an image I had forgotten, of the fellow staffer who would stand up at the close of the Sunday meetings at the Boy Scout camp where I worked for four summers in my teens. Delivered tongue in cheek, I suppose, in those days, with a suitably ponderous tone and a furrowed brow: “Endeavor to Persevere.” Roger, wilco.