Special to the News
Peter Steele is a now retired doctor, mountaineer, prolific author, and perhaps the last of the gentlemen adventurers. He has just released a rather interesting publication titled Vignettes of a Writing Doctor: Half a Century of Stories.
Those who are familiar with Steele’s previous books will not be disappointed by this publication. Focusing largely on Yukon events and locations, there are also short stories from his medical youth in Britain and some excellent bits regarding his time in the Himalayas.
Those who know Steele are warmed by his charm and kind manners, and perhaps sometimes scandalized by his occasional sarcastic wit and sense of mischief. In his upbringing and well-travelled life, he has accumulated some fascinating tales regarding medicine, travel, and perhaps to their eternal embarrassment or maybe pride, his family.
This half century of stories that Steele has published is warm, witty, and occasionally gasp out loud funny. There is the odd wince and sadness in places though, to perhaps remind us of the frailty of what it is to be human.
While he revisits some familiar territory covered in previous books of his, the vignettes in this publication highlight some of the more obscure adventures he and his family have had. Perhaps suffered through, or endured, would be a more appropriate term. While these inflictions were not intentional, they certainly make for interesting reading.
Those who are of a medical inclination will probably be both amused and horrified by some of Dr. Steele’s anecdotes. No doubt, most of the medical community will agree with Steele’s approach, although some will question his method in dealing with warts.
No, I am not going to say what it is, you will have to read the book to find out. Let us just say this sort of cure can no longer be done given that pennies are not with us anymore.
There are many Yukon stories, ranging from the design of the Steelox housing units in Hillcrest to skinny-dipping in Kluane Lake. This last activity resulted in him falling afoul of the long arm of the law while doing so. It is somewhat comforting to know that the RCMP managed to keep even someone as free-spirited as Steele somewhat in check.
The section devoted to mountaineering tales in the Himalayas is intriguing but all too brief. Those who are interested in learning more about this would do well to read Steele’s books devoted entirely to this subject. These include Doctor On Everest, Eric Shipton: Everest and Beyond, and And Far Away.
Returning to the present publication, various tales of sourdoughs are presented, and if true, they just go to show how tough some of the old-timers are. Of course they must be true, because if you cannot trust the word of a respected author such as Steele on northern matters one may as well revert to re-reading the Lost Whole Moose Catalogue.
Steele resides in Whitehorse, and has a cabin in Atlin. Of course he has written a book about his times in Atlin, it is called Atlin’s Gold.
If readers wish to get a broad overview of Steele’s remarkable adventures and life experiences go and pick up a copy of Vignettes of a Writing Doctor. Once you are hooked on his tales, you can get stuck into some of his other publications that are either topic or location focused. Vignettes of a Writing Doctor is available at Mac’s Fireweed.
Lewis Rifkind got a free copy of the book to write this review.