Title: Leaving Beringia
Author: Robin Molineux
Publisher: First Choice Books, Victoria, BC
Review by Bob Lane
What a great title! Do you know about Beringia? This reviewer had to look it up.
The Canadian Encylopedia tells us:
“The importance of Beringia is twofold: it provided a pathway for intercontinental exchanges of plants and animals during glacial periods and for interoceanic exchanges during interglacials; it has been a centre of evolution and has supported apparently unique plant and animal communities. The history of Beringia is important not only in the evolution of landscapes but also in that of plants and animals. . . . And, Because of its aridity, much of Beringia remained unglaciated during the ice ages. The stratigraphy of long sequences of nonglacial sediment exposed at various sites can be correlated with alpine and continental glacial advances elsewhere. Fossils from such sediments are often exceptionally abundant and well preserved. They include pollen grains, plant fossils, invertebrates and vertebrate bones. Studies of fossils and of the sediments in which they occur have permitted tentative reconstructions of paleo-environments in western and eastern Beringia. Beringia is of special importance in the study of human prehistory since it is most likely the area through which man first entered the western hemisphere, presumably following the migrations of large mammals, known from fossil evidence to have roamed eastward across the Bering Land Bridge. – Morlan, Richard E.. “Beringia”, The Canadian Encyclopedia.
The author tells us:
“I imagine you have read about Beringia; the area surrounded by glaciers during the last ice age, where people could, and did, survive over thousands of years. They knew nothing of what lay beyond those walls of ice. Then, over hundreds of years the ice melted, the walls came down and those people began to think of what lay beyond. Once they began to leave the safe land, nothing stopped them. There was no rest. There was no satisfaction. They went on. . . . Had they found what they were looking for when they left Beringia?” (141)
The book is a travelogue. Not in the usual sense, although Os does take many journeys to many places from Victoria, British Columbia to Newfoundland, Australia, Japan, but the important travel takes place in the human mind and personality and its way of dealing with loss, with hope, with new experiences, love, new friends, new places, and life itself. The main character, Os, has lost his wife to illness and is rocked by the loss. They were very close, and the loss has hit him hard. He continues to operate his bike shop but is continually thinking of his departed wife. Together they raised one child who is distant and withdrawn. He makes friends with other bikers and begins to travel a bit with these friends. They travel about Canada, the USA, and other locations. Finally, in Japan, he learns from a Master:
Perhaps Os might consider looking at the death of his wife, and the burden of his continued life in these ways. Beautiful things break. We are as fragile as the most delicate pottery. . . . An irreplaceable bowl falls by accident and is in several pieces. It came to be that we learned how to make the bowl whole again; with lacquer and gold . . . it is whole but a different bowl. It is beautiful but with a different beauty. It is not restoration but a new creation. The second suggestion . . . is this. We are impermanent, everything we believe we have is impermanent. I ask that you see this not as a cause for grief but a joy that we are living. (220)
Os is a skilled bicycle repair man whose business is doing quite well. He is the father of one daughter who is slightly weird and the husband of Grace, a thoughtful woman who loves him as much as he loves her. But, of course, “beautiful things break”. Grace contracts cancer and dies, leaving Os wondering about the ways of the world. After some time he visits Nara in Japan, listens to the Master, and meets yet another traveler, who tells him:
“Where will you go when you leave Nara?” I said I had no plans, that I had come to live and travel this way for many years.
“May I suggest that you consider a pilgrimage? Are you a religious man?”
“I thought not. Shikoku, the eight temples of Shikoku, that is my suggestion . . . . I believe that you are ready.”
This is a thought-provoking novel; always interesting – and the journey we take is internal as Os learns to accept life – and death.
Bob Lane is Philosophy Professor Emeritus at Vancouver Island University.