Book answers ‘Why?’
June 9, 2005
In Jon Turk’s book, “In the Wake of the Jomon: Stone Age Mariners and a Voyage across the Pacific,” the main question is “Why?”
Why would anyone risk his or her life for a journey north through icebergs in stormy seas? Why would he or she pass perfect salmon streams and keep pushing toward the inhospitable unknown?
Anyone who ever has pursued adventure knows the answer to those questions. There isn’t always a logical answer, just an inner drive that keeps you moving.
In his book, he records this exchange:
“Misha smiled and his gold tooth glistened. ‘I love the open sea.’
“I wanted to say, ‘Yeah, I love the open sea, too, but I also remember that day near Cape Horn when I catapulted down a breaking wave, spilled out of my boat, and dislocated my shoulder. I remember swimming for my life in a frigid sea, with a broken boat and a broken body … my eventual return to the United States — to orthopedic surgeons, needles, and a painful rehabilitation. I remember waiting seventeen years before I returned to Cape Horn to complete the journey.”
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Turk first asked a question of himself — why would he get back in his boat after repeated near-death experiences on the open ocean?
Then he asked the same question of the Stone Age Jomon people of Northern Japan whose 3,000-mile journey he was replicating.
It has long been accepted that people migrated to North America by walking across the Bering land bridge.
“That’s not the only part of the story,” Turk said. The Jomon people are now said to have traveled to North America by boat.
“These people were really good sailors,” Turk said.
Among anthropologists who have studied the Jomon people of Northern Japan, the accepted theory about their journey is that a famine or warfare caused them to head north.
“But my response to those anthropologists is ‘you haven’t been in this ocean.’ The pragmatic response is to solve problems on land,” Turk said. “I cannot accept that traveling in that cold, dangerous ocean was the safest, most rational response to whatever they were facing.”
He wrote: “I was tired and wanted to quit early, make camp, stretch out on the warm tundra, and take a long afternoon nap. But every hour and every mile carried us closer to Alaska, so I continued paddling, turning motion into a mantra, while I dripped into a suspended daydream. In that fuzzy dream space, whale represented the sea, the sea symbolized my journey, and my journey led to a reflection on the Jomon.”
As he paddled, Turk built a theory that the Jomon’s journey was a romantic adventure or a shamanistic quest.
“In some people, there is a deep genetic urge to go on quests, something deep inside of us,” he said.
On Saturday, Turk will read from his book and discuss his journey.