Bon Voyage: a farewell letter from Seth Biderman


Seth Biderman, Manager of the Academy for the Love of Learning’s Institute for Teachers, wrote a letter to Patty, Thomas and David before they embarked on their journey.

Here is what he said:


To properly send off our intrepid northern explorers, I read Seton’s Arctic Prairies, the book that seems to have inspired this cockamamie expedition. Highly recommend it, but in case you don’t have time to read it yourself, I’ve culled a few choice passages that will give you an idea of what they have gotten themselves into.

First thing to know is we don’t have to worry about them feeling lonely way up there–this time of year there are plenty of winged friends to keep them company. As Seton reports:

On the back of Billy’s coat, as he sat paddling before me, I counted a round 400 mosquitoes boring away… The air was thick with them; at least as many more, fully 1,000, singing and stinging and filling the air with a droning hum…

At Salt River one could kill 100 with a stroke of the palm, and at times they obscured the colour of the horses. A little later they were much worse. On a square 6 inches of my tent I counted 30 mosquitoes, and the whole surface was similarly supplied; that is, there were 24,000 on the tent and apparently as many more flying about the door.

Of course, they may also spot some Caribou, which make for better company–Seton reckoned the reindeer cousins roamed the area in the tens of millions:

Later an a band of two hundred [caribou] passed through and around our tents. In the morning Billy complained that he could not sleep all night for Caribou travelling by his tent and stumbling over the guy ropes. From this time on we were nearly always in sight of Caribou, small bands or scattering groups; one had the feeling that the whole land was like this, on and on and on, unlimited space with unlimited wild herds.

A year afterward, as I travelled in the fair State of Illinois, famous for its cattle, I was struck by the idea that ones sees far more Caribou in the north than cattle in Illinois. This State has about 56,000 square miles of land and about 3,000,000 cattle; the Arctic Plains, have over 1,000,000 square miles of prairies, which allowing for the fact I saw the best of the range, would set the Caribou number at over 30,000,000.

Seton also traveled to Fort Resolution. You’ll see Seton’s summary of the camp below. I’ve suggested that Patty bring a copy of the Academy’s dog policy to share with the Fort Resolution stewardship team:

It is the worst dog-cursed spot I ever saw: not a square yard but is polluted by them; no article can be left on the ground but will be carried off, torn up, or defiled; the four corners of our tent have become regular stopping places for the countless canines, and are disfigured and made abominable, so that after our escape there will be needed many days of kindly rain for their purification.

Finally, I just want the three of you to know that just as Seton knew his friends in New York City were always with him in spirit as he endured the challenges and relished in the joys of his expedition, so can you count on our attention and good will:

Realizing the fairness of my camp from human abode– it could scarcely have been farther on the continent– my thoughts flew back to the dear ones at home, and my comrades, the men of the Camp-fire Club. I wondered if their thoughts were with me at the time. How they must envy me the chance of launching into the truly unknown wilderness, a land still marked on the maps as “unexplored!” How I enjoyed the thoughts of their sympathy over our probable perils and hardships, and imagined them crowding around me with hearty greetings on my safe return! Alas! for the rush of a great city’s life and crowds, I found out later on that these, my companions, did not even know that I had been away from New York.

Bon voyage, mis amis!


All quoted excerpts are from The Arctic Prairies, by Ernest Thompson Seton.


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