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  • Cited by 1
  • Print publication year: 2004
  • Online publication date: May 2006

4 - Nature-writing


A challenge to representation

In 1801, the fur trader Alexander Mackenzie (1764?-1820), the first European to see the mighty river that would be named after him and the first to cross the North American continent, published a book about his travel experiences. Surprisingly, his account begins on a rather apologetic note. Do not expect any “variety” from my narrative, he told his readers, ticking off the challenges he had encountered along the way: “Mountains and valleys, the dreary wastes, and the wide-spreading forests, the lakes and rivers succeed each other in general description.” Even a trained naturalist would have found little to write about in this inhospitable terrain, which he and his men, raw-mannered coureurs de bois, had been forced to traverse with “rapid steps,” constantly afraid of “savages” lurking in dark corners.