A Boat, a Bay, and the Quest for the Per­fect Bear

Foreword Reviews - - Contents - by Barry Sil­ver­stein

Paul Soud­ers, Moun­taineers Books (SEPTEM­BER) Hard­cover $26.95 (304pp), 978-1-68051-104-8

Across a three-year pe­riod, pho­tog­ra­pher Paul Soud­ers took four un­ac­com­pa­nied boat trips to Canada’s Hud­son Bay. His ob­jec­tive was to find “the po­lar bear of [his] dreams” and pho­to­graph the wild an­i­mal “liv­ing, hunt­ing, and swim­ming among the melt­ing Arc­tic sea ice.” Soud­ers ul­ti­mately suc­ceeded, but he got much more than he bar­gained for. Arc­tic Soli­taire doc­u­ments the au­thor’s es­capades in a per­sonal nar­ra­tive that is en­gag­ing, some­times har­row­ing, and of­ten very amus­ing.

Soud­ers faces all man­ners of chal­lenges on C-sick, his ap­pro­pri­ately named boat, in­clud­ing rag­ing seas, sus­pi­cious na­tives, sup­plies that wash over­board, and dan­ger­ous en­coun­ters with all kinds of wildlife. Along the way, the au­thor’s keen eye for ob­ser­va­tion and his tal­ent for first­hand re­portage make for a riv­et­ing story. His abil­ity to mock his own short­com­ings and mis­ad­ven­tures lends a par­tic­u­larly hu­mor­ous as­pect to his sto­ry­telling. In one in­stance, when Soud­ers is con­vinced that he’s fi­nally found that per­fect po­lar bear, he be­gins to snap frame af­ter frame with his cam­era—only to re­al­ize later that he never re­moved the lens cap.

Soud­ers con­veys the won­der of his ex­ploits through de­light­ful im­agery: To sit in the warm sun, breathe air crisp and tangy with salt, and watch the se­cret life of a wild an­i­mal—maybe this is what I should have been striv­ing for all along. Later, he de­scribes a par­tic­u­lar bear en­counter this way: “For these few fleet­ing mo­ments, I had been given a chance to wit­ness a scene of rare beauty. Those min­utes were the rarest of gifts.” As an added bonus, Soud­ers in­ter­weaves many of his stun­ning pho­to­graphs through­out the book.

In freely shar­ing what he sees and ex­pe­ri­ences, Soud­ers im­merses his au­di­ence in a cap­ti­vat­ing ad­ven­ture, of­fer­ing an in­ti­mate view of both the per­ils of lone ex­plo­ration and the stun­ning beauty of the wild. The re­sult is an en­chant­ing treat for any reader.

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