Arctic Folly: Alisa Smith on Risk

Smith, Alisa_300_CMYK

 

The first camping trip I ever did alone, at the age of 22, was probably outside the norm: I chose the high Arctic. Polar bears, pooh! I only learned later in life that camping scientists take rifles with them on the tundra.

Okay, I admit to a slight fear of polar bears. This is healthy. I had read the literature: they are the only kind of bear that will actively hunt humans for food. This hit home when, after I landed at the Iqaluit airport with no plan for where to stay before heading further into the wilds, I walked in a random direction to a hill and set up my tent on it. I was exposed, but I would have a view of them coming. Except, when you’re zipped in a tent, you have no view. As I lay huddled in my sleeping bag, there were scruffling noises outside. My heart pounded. Finally, I could stand it no longer. If I was going to die, I’d rather die standing than ignominiously wrapped up like a hotdog. I burst out of the tent.

It was a mouse in the dry grass.

I felt like an idiot. However, to be fair, now that I have more backcountry experience—with black bears at least—they are often surprisingly quieter than something tiny, like a bird, in the bush. I was only a half-wit rather than a full idiot.

The trip improved when I made it to the national park, Auyuittuq (I wasn’t fully Into the Wild crazy—a ranger might save me). This two-week trip and this landscape made a deep impression on me, magnified by my solitude. It was to the Arctic that I sent my character Lena Stillman, and I imagined it based on Auyuittuq. Austere, heart scouring—crushing. Risk can mean punishment.

Alisa Smith Speakeasy

 

 

Alisa Smith is appearing at the 2017 Whistler Writers Festival at the Crime Writers Lunch Sat. Oct. 14, 3-4:30pm at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler.