Encounters from a Kayak: Native People, Sacred Places, and Hungry Polar Bears by Nigel Foster

One man’s reminiscences of flora, fauna and miscellanea encountered while paddling the globe.

For decades, Nigel Foster has been kayaking the world’s oceans, lakes and canals–as well as teaching the skill, designing the equipment and writing about his experiences. Encounters from a Kayak collects more than three dozen of his articles in a single volume, many of them never previously published. Each examines a moment in time in which Foster–sometimes alone, sometimes with fellow enthusiasts–interacts with the natural world and its inhabitants from his small craft. It is one of the strengths of the collection that not even the oldest pieces (extending as far back as the early 1980s) feel dated.

The stories are organized thematically around creatures, people, places, and flotsam and jetsam; the diversity and scope of Foster’s contacts in all these categories are impressive. In his encounters with historic artifacts in Scotland, local police in Shanghai and monkeys in the Florida Keys, Foster brings a sense of humble wonder to his environment. Naturally, he considers issues of ecology and conservation in his travels, but he never lectures. Rather, in unadorned prose, he delivers the experiences themselves: the glow of bioluminescence, the ordeal of a Dutchman’s flight from Nazi occupation by kayak, the history of a sleepy Minnesota town and the real-life Scylla and Charybdis of Scarba and Corryvreckan, just off the Scottish coast. Foster’s unassuming consideration of his surroundings is charming, simple and occasionally poetic. Natural history, human history, birds, jellyfish, thunderstorms and more come together to entertain and educate in Encounters from a Kayak.


This review originally ran as a *starred review* in the December 14, 2012 issue of Shelf Awareness for Readers. To subscribe, click here, and you’ll receive two issues per week of book reviews and other bookish fun!


Rating: 5 campfires.

One Response

  1. This book is fun to pick up and start reading at any point. I keep trying to choose my favorite story and keep surprising myself when its not the one I thought it would be! Is it the frightening face to face meeting with a polar bears? Or his touching encounter with Phyllis?… so many varied and interesting tales and situations!

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