Submitted by maeve on March 11, 2013 - 5:29pm
Jay Ruzesky was fascinated by the diaries of Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen from an early age. The Vancouver poet, author and teacher of English is a descendant of Amundsen, the first man to cross the Northwest Passage and reach the South Pole. Ruzesky spent much of his childhood pretending to be his famous ancestor, navigating the rough waters of his parents’ attic aboard the ships Belgica, Gjoa andFram, but it wasn’t until he was an adult that he began to think about following in Amundsen's footsteps.
“I was interested in his role in the heroic age of adventure and wanted to be a part of it in my own way,” he says. In 2011, 100 years after Amundsen’s year-and-a-half-long voyage across land and sea, Ruzesky boarded the 71-metre research vessel Polar Pioneer, beginning the epic journey that inspired the writing of his new creative non-fiction memoir, In Antarctica: An Amundsen Pilgrimage.
Ruzesky will be reading from In Antarctica alongside authors Matthew Goodman (Eighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland's History-Making Race Around the World) and Iain Reid(The Truth About Luck: What I Learned on My Road Trip with Grandma) as part of Ben McNally’s annual Travellers Series at Harbourfront Centre. The event, presented by Authors at Harbourfront Centre, celebrates new travel writing by North American authors.
In Antarctica tells both the story of Ruzesky’s expedition to the South Pole and that of his forefather. He traveled in relative comfort compared to Amundsen, but Ruzesky’s voyage still proved challenging, and took him, just as it did Amundsen, to the very edge of the world and the most isolated continent on the planet.
“It is like nowhere else on earth and it feels very remote,” he reminisces. “It's more like going to the moon than anything else. There is no infrastructure. No planes fly overhead, there are no wires, no cell towers. You have to cross 1000 kilometres of very nasty ocean to reach it. What surprised me is the way I felt belonging there. Somehow I felt at home in that landscape and I'm still thinking about what that means. How is it that I feel at home when I am so thoroughly away from the world as I know it? In a way, that was a spiritual awakening — a feeling of getting deeper into my essential self than I had before.”
Ruzesky's voyage to Antarctica took him through Canada, Norway, Brazil, Chile and Argentina, but prior to this adventure, he’d travelled extensively. He notes that travel isn’t important to everyone, but that part of what appeals to him is the vulnerability one feels when they find themselves in a new place for the first time.
“It helps us become children again, and to see like children — wide-eyed and full of wonder,” Ruzesky offers. “If there is value in travel, surely that is it. Travel takes us out of our comfort and complacency and, in opening our eyes to difference, urges us to reconsider our own lives, values and wants.”
When asked where he’d like to head next, Ruzesky names more of Amundsen’s turf: the far reaches of the Arctic Circle. “I'm working on a way to get up close and personal with some polar bears,” he says. “Amundsen got to the North Pole in 1926, so that gives me lots of time to make plans.”
Ben Mcnally hosts the Travellers Series on Wednesday, March 13. Tickets are $10 to the general public and free for supporters, students and youth 25 and under with ID. To reserve a seat, please call 416-973-4000 or visit the online box office. For more information on Authors at Harbourfront Centre's weekly event series, check out their website.