I picked Jon Turk up at the Kalamazoo airport on Friday after work. I’d heard that he wasn’t as chatty and vivacious as some of the younger pups we’d had to symposium over the last few years. Simon and Justine definitely are very fun and very very social, which is great. Jon Turk though is in a class all his own. We hit the road and he started talking almost immediately. Much to my surprise he is a listener as much as he is a speaker, or better yet a story teller.

I’m always interested in hearing about couples that have children young who have their adventures too. What sacrifices are made? What are the repercussions from those long periods of time away from home might have been. While I have ultimate respect for Simon and Justine, I have a deep affinity and respect for a man like Jon because he made hard choices in life. He had to choose to be away from home and family to do the things he needed to do, and he had to live with those choices. Further, his family had to live with them too.

Jon has done some amazing things in life, probably so grand that it boggles even his mind how he did it. He’s crossed the northwest passage, gone from Japan all the way to the Siberian straits, paddled in Greenland, climbed and mountain biked in Asia.

Our talk in the car circled around the inherent social dynamics of human beings, adventures, his children, and ultimately his dead wife Chris. We could talk about anything from UFO’s to paddling and Jon ultimately circled back to Chris. Her death clearly haunts him. How could it not. For the full story read “this”:http://summitjournal.com/articles/features/skiing_lines.html.

I remember listening to “Cold Oceans”:http://www.amazon.com/Adventures-Kayak-Rowboat-Dogsled-Turk/dp/0694520373/ref=pd_bbs_sr_3/103-4770724-8819841?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1180539808&sr=8-3 Jon’s first book in the car when I was making a very difficult work commute to Detroit from Paw Paw. The book is about more than his monumental expeditions into the Arctic. It is also about the lifelong love affair with Chris, his children, and how long it really took to get the two of them together. It is written like Hemingway without the need for pointless machismo. It moved me, and his reading of it is phenomenal if you get a chance to buy it on tape, Jon reads it!

Jon’s talk at Symposium is on the topic of the Romantic vs the Pragmatist in man. It’s clearly not really a strictly paddling expedition talk. Which clearly sums up why most of us get into paddling. It certainly isn’t pragmatic to kayak at all, which is why Jet skis are so popular. There is a certain nobility and simplicity to paddling that makes it difficult to think of it in rational terms. I can say from my first time in a kayak it was like touching a dream. The kayak glided through the water effortlessly and my hands dipped into a mirror smooth lake on every stroke. The notion to get into a sport that costs thousands, is completely individual, and not at all practical was not something that made sense, I just did it because I caught the bug. Every paddler has that perfect moment they are searching for. It’s a lifelong quest. You never really get it. Or at least I hope I don’t, because then the trip is over. I keep going back out there because that dream is still out there, the dream of that perfect wave, or the perfect downwind ride in a sea kayak, that perfect moment in the wilderness where you see God.
We all know it’s out there somewhere, so we keep going. Jon’s talk based on the book, “In the Wake of the Jomon”:http://www.amazon.com/Wake-Jomon-Jon-Turk/dp/0071449027/ref=sr_1_4/103-4770724-8819841?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1180539808&sr=8-4
is based on the notion that people did not cross on a land bridge to North America from Asia, but perhaps paddled here in canoes and kayaks. This is based on the premise that at our hearts we are not pragmatists, but romantics. Or at the least, we are dreamers in addition to being pragmatists. The argument itself is poetic. And this Yeats Poem says it all:

??Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.??

I think Jon Turk still has some expeditions left in him. When we were in the car, he even hinted he might have a few left to do by kayak. His talk smacked of the sort of lyricism that moves the soul, rather than cold details about what happened each day. Sure he had the usual death defying heroics we expect, but it was backed by a long life full of adventure, pain, beauty, and hard work; which is not something you get to hear everywhere. We were priveleged to have him. And he also cut the rug on Sunday night with Betsie and the band like a madman!

As usual the Symposium had a mix of weather, rain, sunshine and a little cold in the evening. The training and the classes were great. I got to play with the kids, and the adults a bit. I *cough* accidentally knocked a few students over. But managed to teach them something too. I got to learn from some students as usual!

I also managed not to disgrace myself in the rolling demo, for which I was thankful. I had to add a little sculling on my forward recovery handroll, but hey who’s counting?

The feelings I have for the WMCKA symposium can’t be taken out of context. Essentially whenever I think about WMCKA I see the cut-away version of the human anatomy. I see how colors are interpreted by the optic nerve, how pain is transferred from the nerves to the brain, how food is chewed and then digested. Serving on the board, and on the symposium committee has been a privilege. Most of the time it’s been great fun, but it also changes how I see things when it comes time to have fun. So when it came time to arrive on site Friday night, I had the distinct distaste of having seen how the sausages are made. Which let me know, it’s time to take a break.

I’ve heard from lots of folks it is one of the best run symposiums in the Midwest, so I trust my efforts and the efforts of the board have not gone unnoticed. I hope to attend next year and just stick to playing with the kids and knocking students in the water. Poor poor students


  1. Keith,

    I liked you remark on the romantic impulse. It is much so.
    Very, very good post.

  2. deborah de lorenzo

    Hola Keith! I did attend my first WMCKA and it will not be my last!

    Truly a gourmet feast for kayakers with the best array of on- and off-the-water classes. All amid a welcoming, positive, inclusive attitude. Example: I just got my first seakayak in December (the now semi-famous red Fuego “Hot Sauce”) and was travelling alone. It is not always easy being new, and a beginner, in this kind of event, but the welcome from ALL (paddlers, vendors, outfitters, instructors, everyone) was warm and genuine!

    Meeting you (you are too modest, you tied for the most rolls in 20 seconds, 8 completions I believe, in your splendid red NDK Silhouette)and the other fine folks in WMCKA solidified my impressions of WMCKA as a club dedicated to doing everything the right way – fun, finesse, skills, community – the whole package. My horizons were widened and it will be a delight to advance my skills the right way. Tis better to learn the correct techniques early than to spend time and mental energy unlearning bad habits learned in ignorance!

    Now as to Jon Turk – due to upcoming projects he is not speaking much on tour this year, so securing him as featured speaker was a coup. I’d read “Cold Oceans” earlier this year and was midway into “In the Wake of the Jomon” during the symposium. He was kind enough to autograph my book for me after dinner on Saturday. We also briefly banded together to convince another paddler who won a paddling log not to abandon it but to give herself the freedom and joy of writing down her experiences in the low tech way.

    Notably, ALL his books sold out at the symposium, testimony to his spiralling yet carefully connected elegiac on dreams and doing and what has true value in technology. It was as if he threw out a cosmic net over eleven thousand years and cast the bounty of his thoughts and experiences ashore for us all.

    I found him to be a highly approachable, intelligent man, equally poet and scientist, accustomed to seeing and thinking beyond the surface. He appears to be entering a new and even more spiritual phase of his life made more poignant by his recent loss.

    In olden times he might be considered a shaman. I told him he sure danced like one on Sunday night! He wore out a lively pack of women, including me… an original for whom there probably never was a mould to break!

    In sum, you, Keith, are an exceptional writer and kayaker, much like Jon Turk himself. Do not scoff at the comparision. We each are on our journey and if we are true to ourselves we are compelled to tell it, be it exotic or prosaic.

    Thank you for telling it, for this thoughtful piece which will be added to my cache of memories of my first WMCKA symposium. I hope to paddle with WMCKA again at the Twinkie Conflagration or the September events. Until then the very best paddling to you and the other members of WMCKA.

    deborah de “the friendly fire”

  3. I was not able to attend the WMCKA symposium this year. I made one of those hard choices that you refer to. I have a new wife and baby girl that will keep me away for a couple of years yet, then when she is old enough, we intend to be back. The past three years that I have attended have been a fabulous learning experience for me. I want my daughter to learn how to paddle at a WMCKA symposium in the future.

  4. Good post Keith. Jon sounds like a remarkable man. I wish I could have been there this year but vacation days are hard to come by with a new job in a new city. WMCKA is still the most fun symposium of the ones I’ve attended (although Qajaq TC holds a special place in my heart) and you guys do an awesome job with it.

    Also, there’s nothing wrong with sculling on the foreward finishing rolls. Heck, if I don’t think I’ll make it up in a particular boat, I’ll use two hands to finish forward since I don’t see any Greenlandic rolling judges around!