1332 Harking: growing up in Jasper
by George Mercer
North Saanich: George Mercer, 2021; printed by Friesens, Altona, Manitoba
$19.99 / 9780987975485
Reviewed by Valerie Green
George Mercer’s book Harking is described as a book for young adults.
I am sure, however, it will appeal to people of all ages who enjoy and respect the wilderness. Set in Jasper National Park, it tells the story of teenager Harking Thompson and begins a year after her father has died in an avalanche while on a ski trip. Her parents, Dan and Paige Thompson, had separated before that tragedy happened and Harking and her younger brother, Col, are left to cope with these two devastating events in their young lives.
Col had moved away with his mother but Harking who, like her father loved the outdoors and especially the wildlife, had stayed with her father in Jasper and was on the ski trip with him and other teenagers when he died in the avalanche a year earlier. She is still haunted by nightmares of the event which she cannot totally remember. Nonetheless she continues to blame herself because she was the one who had persuaded him to lead the party that day.
Harking Thompson’s story is one of struggle, defiance and rebellion as she tries to come to terms with loss and what really matters in life. While trying to negotiate through her trauma, she enjoys placing audio and video cameras in trees on certain trails to caption the sounds and songs of different birds and watching wildlife pass through the park. By doing that she then finds herself caught up in a battle to save a mother grizzly bear and her cubs.
To help her understand the meaning of life and what is really important, she starts by studying the notes her explorer father had left behind in his journals. He always claimed he was descended from explorer David Thompson and used many of that famous explorer’s codes and sketches as he hiked similar trails.
Dan Thompson has also left his daughter Harking a few somewhat cryptic personal notes which she tries to decode while taking risky chances as she explores her own course through life.
Harking becomes especially frustrated when some of the boys she knows from school disregard the closure of various trails within the Park. They continue to ride their bikes on those trails causing danger not only to them but also to the wildlife. Her own brother, Col, who has returned to Jasper for the summer, is influenced by one of the boys to go along with the group, which puts him in peril. The situation becomes disastrous when it involves park wardens and the park superintendent. Although Harking sometimes traverses those same trails, she never rides her own bike there and always leaves it hidden in a bush somewhere before beginning to hike a trail.
Mercer’s characters are all strong, especially Marion, the older woman Harking has lived with since the death of her father. Marion is a hard, dyed-in-the-wool character and she, like Harking, fights strongly for what she believes in.
Simi, Harking’s best friend and the daughter of an RCMP officer, is another compelling voice in Harking’s story. She is also depicted as a strong, empathetic friend to Harking. Simi goes along with Harking on her journey to discover herself and is always supportive despite being more cautious herself.
But above all else, Mercer’s prose sparkles with energy. He beautifully describes the town of Jasper, “where the Athabasca, Miette and Maligne Rivers converged, the confluence of their valleys provided a critical juncture for wildlife, connecting the park east and west as well as north and south.” And in Harking’s own voice he adds, “It’s like the beating heart of the park, and the rivers are the arteries and veins.” And he continues:
Leaving the lakeshore far behind, the grizzly led her cubs away from the river valley, their interest shifting away from the last clusters of buffaloberry to bearberry and Hedysarum roots as they headed to higher ground, the sounds of the highway and railway quickly fading into the distance.
The bears were heading for hibernation to wait out the long winter months. The cycle would continue when the bears emerged again in the spring.
In this debut novel Harking, George Mercer has done an excellent job. As a National Park Warden himself for over thirty years, he uses his own expertise and knowledge of the wilderness around Jasper to write this story. He is also the award-winning author of the Dyed in the Green fiction series about Canada’s national parks [see Ron Dart’s review of Fat Cats — ed]. It is, therefore, hardly surprising that his description of the wilderness and his obvious respect for wildlife comes through loud and clear in the voices of his characters in Harking.
This is an excellent read for all wildlife enthusiasts that also will teach so much about appreciating the need for wildlife survival in parks and protected areas. Or, as George Mercer states, “so that we can better adjust our own use to accommodate other species we share this planet with.”
Valerie Green was born and educated in England where she studied journalism and law. Her passion was always writing from the moment she first held a pen in her hand. After working at the world-famous Foyles Books on Charing Cross Road, London, followed by a brief stint with M15 and legal firms, she moved to Canada in 1968 where she married and raised a family, while embarking on a long career as a freelance writer, columnist, and author of over twenty non-fiction historical and true-crime books. She is currently working on her debut novel Providence, which will be published soon by Hancock House as the first of The McBride Chronicles, an historical four-generational family saga bringing early BC history alive. Now semi-retired (although writers never really retire!) she enjoys taking short road trips around BC with her husband, watching their two beloved grandsons grow up and, of course, writing. Editor’s note: Valerie Green has recently reviewed books by Adrian Raeside, Haley Healey, Grant Hayter-Menzies, Michael Whatling, Jen Sookfong Lee, Kay Jordan, and Leanne Baugh.
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