Adventurer tells tales
Author, fly fishing-guide, powder skier and explorer Derek Grzelewski offers some of his best stories and story telling tips at this year’s Mountain Film Festival. Debbie Jamieson reports.
There are few stories as extreme as Derek Grzelewski’s own.
Featured in the prologue of his soon to be released book Going to Extremes: Adventures in Unknown New Zealand it is his story of escaping Soviet Poland to an unknown life.
‘‘It seems quite extreme to someone on the outside but when I was doing it it was pretty ordinary. There was nothing else I could do.’’
Faced with amilitary summons for three year’s service under a Communist government that had declared martial law, his resolve for freedom took over.
The experienced mountaineer lay hidden in a rock crevice on a mountain pass bordering Poland and Slovakia as soldiers completed a patrol on the snowy mountain tops. After they departed he headed down the couloir into the freedom beyond ‘‘tentatively at first, stabbing the ice axe into the snow for safety and balance, punctuating my gait. Then, finding a newer, freer rhythm, opening up the throttle of the soul, I went from small steps to giant leaps and moon-walked down the slope, confident the snow would hold. The Iron Curtain did not have many cracks, but I had just found one and there was no turning back,’’ he wrote.
‘‘Sometimes you have to go to extremes just to find room to breathe.’’
The book is the third by Wanaka-based Grzelewski. The previous two tales of fly-fishing in New Zealand are big sellers overseas.
The stories in Going to Extremes were all published in either New Zealand Geographic or the Smithsonian and are all of people going to extremes - Don Merton’s remarkable rescue of the kakapo, the science of avalanches, the heroics of volunteer firemen and stories of individuals including accidental explorer Alphonse Barrington, Jean Batten, Arthur Lydiard and Kelly Tarlton.
He is timing the release for this year’s New Zealand Mountain Film Festival where he also hopes to unlock some magical stories from other adventurers.
During a two-hour presentation he will offer aspiring story tellers his ideas on what makes a good story.
‘‘People who adventure have good stories to tell. Often they don’t quite have the skills to tell them. You can ruin a good story like a good joke by telling it badly,’’ he said.
Storytelling is, he believes, a universal skill, adaptable to different mediums and even have to act it out a bit. We all want to hear stories. Without stories civilisation dies. Stories are how we communicate, how we relate, how we learn.’’
Fun filled: Derek Grzelewski training his personal avalanche dog Maya - ‘‘Not much official progress but a lot of fun.’’