“I’ll always turn to the North!” says New Yorker Frances Lee Jaques to his wife. He is trying to convince her to take their upcoming vacation to the wilderness of northern Minnesota, instead of the tropics. Finding her adventurous nature intrigued by his enthusiasm, she relents. Their trip turned out to be the life-changing inspiration for Florence Page Jaques’ book, Canoe Country, first published in 1938.
She ends that summer-long journey by lamenting, “I don’t want to leave. I’ll always remember this place and long for it a little.” A few years later, they do return, but this time to stay for the winter – despite her fear of the extreme cold they would encounter. Her next book, Snowshoe Country, published in 1944, chronicles this trip. Both books include charming line drawings by Frances of the pristine scenery and abundant wildlife.
Instead of the solitude of their summer canoe trip, this time they stay the winter among a small cabin community of homesteaders. The close-knit community teaches Florence how to survive and eventually flourish through the harsh northern winter. As she slowly adjusts to the cold, snow, and bitter winds, she immerses herself in the new experiences of snowshoeing, dogsledding, and travel over frozen lakes. The excitement of the once per week mail delivery is all they encounter from the outside world.
Frances learns the most from Justine, one of the permanent residents. She takes Frances under her wing and teaches her the ways of the north woods in winter. She tell her practical things like how to dress loosely, and to “play with the weather, not fight it” by going out onto the lake when it is calm, and retreat into the shelter of the woods when the wind picks up.
Frances’ first time on snowshoes is a challenge with the traditional wood-and-rawhide style, and no crampons. She recounts falling several times, and struggling to walk with such a wide stance. Not one to miss out on things, a few weeks later she has improved enough to join a group on a two-day snowshoe excursion to a trapping cabin.
Throughout the book, Frances’ optimism, and good spirits make enjoyable reading. She has a true adventurer spirit which shines through in her willingness to step outside of her comfort zone. Her writing style is conversational, and it feels like she’s confiding to the reader personally about everything she has learned from all the things she did that day.
By the end of the season, Jaques discovers a great and unexpected joy in winter. “It is a great prize – a whole quarter of a year gained. Spring and summer and autumn I have never failed to revel in, but winter I endured; now I embrace that season too. And it is a joy with a different character and power, which awakens new responses in me.”
She describes winter in a beautiful way through these new eyes. At first she finds the snow covered landscapes just a monotonous white, but then later: “These subtle colors have no richness, but a strange and deliberate power. The infinite gradations of faint rose, clear blue, or pale gold over the vast stretches of snow come from no frailty, but from a hidden strength such as a pearl has.”
Snowshoe Country was most recently published in 1999, together with Canoe Country in one volume. Together, they provide four seasons worth of armchair adventure and inspiration, and are as relevant and entertaining today as when they were written.