Peter Steele’s book arrived on my desk at just about the time in my cataract affliction when I was unable to read it, the white glare off the paper turning the printed words to grey smudges. Eventually I was piqued enough by this that I sought it out in the various e-book options and found it on the Kindle app. By then it was too late to give it the pre-book signing treatment Steele had been hoping for. Not long after that, I was struggling to use my laptop, so dealing with Steele’s compilation of 70 or so pieces has had to wait until I got my eyes back.
At 87 years of age, Steele is described by encyclopedia.com as a physician, mountaineer and author. One of his publishers sums him up with the following words: “The author of several other books, Steele has received several international awards for his book on Arctic explorations. Peter Steele and his family have lived in Whitehorse since 1975. A British-born and trained plastic surgeon and ophthalmologist, Steele has lived, travelled and worked throughout the world, including such places as Bhutan, the Sahara and Katmandu. He was chief medical officer of the Grenfell Medical Service in Labrador. He served as team doctor to the international 1971 Everest expedition.”
For the last half century, Steele has been writing history books about explorers and mountain climbing, as well as two volumes of memoirs and a book about his beloved wife, Sarah. Some of the short essays in this book come out of his work for The Medical Post. He has contributed to other periodicals and our local newspapers, but this volume does not tell us where and when the pieces were penned.
Vignettes are short, descriptive pieces about people or places. Most of these were written while he lived in the Yukon, but some date back to his time in Bristol, UK.
The book is divided into chapters, within which are collected somewhat related material. The first, for instance, is basically a collection of stories and opinions related to his medical career. Chapter two deals with material connected to his home in Whitehorse, including the house itself, some events and several essays about pets.
In a later chapter he revisits some of his family’s experiences in Tibet, while another collects a few of his thoughts about the craft of being a writer.
Dawson gets a couple of references. One relates to the donation of a frostbitten toe (a patient’s, not his) to the ritual of the Sourdough Cocktail, back when it was celebrated at the Eldorado Hotel, before it moved to the Westmark Hotel and finally to the Downtown, where it now resides.
Another is a tale about training (in Mayo) and then doing the July Midnight Dome Run in Dawson, back in the days when the starting gun was an actual pistol fired by a member of the RCMP.
The final two chapters feature adventures and misadventures in the winter, staple subjects for any Yukon writer. The final chapter returns to the setting of his 1995 celebration of the village of Atlin, Atlin’s Gold, which I reviewed in Bookends 25 years ago. His affection for the village is contagious.
These pieces tend to have a lively and somewhat self-deprecating tone to them. Whether Steele is attending a wedding in Tibet, writing about skiing to work on a bitterly cold Whitehorse day, or struggling with the construction of a shed, or a tree house, Steele has found a way to make the story interesting.