Scott Donaldson – you can read all about his epic solo kayak trip from Australia to NZ in a number of places. He won’t go down in the history books as the guy who made it because he didn’t quite make land. He nearly got home…he could probably smell the pies, but he was tantilisingly close when nature put on the biggest ‘fend’ in the form of an easterly and a rather persistent one, more than halting his progress but sending him west back toward Australia, immigration would not be happy over there after thinking they’d finally found a way to dispose of their excess kiwi (minus the fruit flies?).
Three months alone in a kayak and to not walk ashore but be unceremoniously plucked from the sea by helicopter might appear to be the epitome of failure but I felt strangely elated. When I think of traditional notions of conquering nature there is a tendency to default to Sir Edmund Hillary who so eloquently put it after summiting Everest “knocked the bastard off”. As flippant as it sounds really did capture the philosophical ideals of the time around dominating, taming and controlling nature. The ‘enlightenment’ period brought about Cartesian thinking and dualistic separation of the Body and Mind. More significantly the separation of Nature (woman) and Culture (man).
Ok so most people won’t really care to think deeply and fair enough. But if you feel a bit of dose of deconstruction then dive on in – the water isn’t too rough. Why unpack this further? What’s to be gained? For me, it makes for an interesting re-reading or a way to look at meanings that can be made if we look at what ‘failing to overcome nature’ might hold for a dialogue about being with nature. One of these could be accepting limits, not as some sense of weakness or personal deficit. Nature ‘winning’ might have been viewed in the past as the feminine/female side defeating man, something akin to a fate worse than death with the shame and humiliation that comes with being ’emasculated’. The private/public dualism sits alongside the nature/culture again with significant gendered implications for meaning. Family is the realm of private and the support required for Mr Donaldson to complete his journey was 5years in the planning and training as well as the 3 months at sea. In the past the significant contribution wives, mothers and children had in supporting conquests would have never been considered (that probably goes for all aspects of philosophical, scientific and literary greats – well those who are recognised). Mr Donaldson has his own words about the significance of his family in his blog and while he might not appreciate the importance of bringing them into consideration it is a shift away from separation and silencing of the support family play. He has his own response to questions about the ‘cost’ of his expedition and I like his account of meaningful family time. To be absent for 3 months at sea might seem a long time but there are many other ways parents can be ‘absent’ from their families. His own critique gives a valuable alternative to the well worn path of macho masochism in the mountains.
I’m not sure how Scott Donaldson will be remembered in years to come but I don’t think we need to worry about any mass migrations via kayak any time soon. Lets hope no-one tries a double crossing…not for any safety reasons but because I couldn’t stand a revival of Six Months In a Leaky Boat.