by Nancy Soares on October 3, 2016

To me, it’s all about connection and compassion…Once we lose one or the other, or both, the world becomes a much less pleasant place, and a more dangerous place, to live in. – Jon Turk

After reading this book the first thing I thought was Wow. This book should be read.

Why? For one thing, it’s a really good read. But as I started to write this review I looked at my notes and then at the blurb on the back of the book. One word caught my eye: sanity.

I’ve thought I was crazy. I’ve thought the world was crazy and the only sane one was me. Crocodiles and Ice made me realize that yes, I’m crazy, and so are we all. But Nature, or the Universe if you will, is eminently sane, and if sanity is to be found anywhere it is in the few remaining wild places of the earth. When wilderness is gone, then we will truly be mad. There is nothing more insane than an entire species in collusion, destroying the very thing that gives it life.

Paddling in croc-infested waters is risky business

Paddling in croc-infested waters is risky business, but not if you propitiate them.

Crocodiles and Ice is a sane book. It’s about what we can do to recapture our collective sanity. Crocodiles and Ice is the story of how Jon Turk came to understand what it is to be sane through travel and adventure, loss and healing, and the guides and sign posts along the way that pointed him toward the goal. Civilization is like a cocoon that protects us from the Outside. For Turk, it was necessary to strip off nearly everything about that cocoon in order to connect intimately with Deep Wild. Outside, about as far away from civilization as you can get these days, he received a gift. And that’s what this book is about.



In Crocodiles and Ice Turk talks about what happened when people started farming. I’ve always heard this was like the greatest moment in human history because agriculture allowed humans to build cities, protect themselves, and have leisure to develop art, music, and everything we think is good about civilization. But Turk quotes Jared Diamond, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author who wrote an essay entitled “The Worst Mistake in the History of the Human Race”. Modern hunter-gatherers don’t work that hard. For example, African Bushmen devote only 12 to 19 hours a week to gathering food. Compare that to the normal modern work week. Skeletal remains from Greece and Turkey show that people were taller, and healthier, before they started farming: “The combination of hard work, reliance on a few starchy crops, risk or starvation when these crops failed, and concentration of pathogens caused by the aggregation of people into crowded societies all combined to cause skyrocketing prevalence of tooth decay, malnutrition, iron-deficiency anemia, infectious disease and degenerative conditions of the spine” (p. 122). Even today, in those Mediterranean countries people have not regained their previous stature.

This is a paradox: though farming brought on all these bad things, the non-nomadic lifestyle was conducive to producing lots of babies. Sounds like a good thing, right? But it seems we can thank the development of agriculture for over-population, for plagues (remember the Bible?), and for war as farmers organized armies to conquer nomadic people in order to take their land. I think most people would agree that if anything is going to take us out as a species, overpopulation with its attendant plague, war, and starvation, will do it. We could avoid this madness if we reclaim our sanity and begin to live in harmony with our environment.

You can't do this kind of shit if you're not in harmony with your environment.

You can’t do this kind of shit if you’re not in harmony with your environment.

What does all this have to do with reptiles and frozen water? The crocodiles and the ice helped Jon Turk find sanity. This book is the story of one man’s awakening consciousness, of a scientist’s introduction to magic, of the ecstasy that can be found in the Deep Wild and how it can connect us with God, or Nature, or what you will – that which gave us birth and to which we return when we die. It’s a series of adventures as Turk travels to the Solomon Islands, to Ellesmere Island, to China and to British Colombia. It’s about a crocodile, a bear, a wolf, and a whole lot of ice, and the wildness and sanity they represent. It’s about the connection that’s possible between us and our environment when we drop our arrogance and our fear and see ourselves as one with instead of separate from Planet Earth. It’s about finding a place in our hearts where even death becomes harmonious and proper; where there is no fear, only the ecstasy of being alive.

Spirit Guide

Spirit Guide

We can’t return to our hunting-gathering past. We need farms to feed the burgeoning population. But we can heal our self-inflicted wounds and live with compassion for ourselves, for others, for our home planet and all the wild things, crocodiles, bears, wolves, and ice included, that form the web of Life. When we connect with Nature we connect with our deeper selves and thus find meaning and healing.

We all want happiness. What we are not told by our schools, our religions, or our governments is what Turk discovered: “the search for ecstasy is the only sane, valid, career choice” (p. 289). We seek happiness from the most ridiculous things: money, cars, clothes, houses, furniture, drugs, alcohol, relationships. Nothing lasts. But the happiness we gain from experiencing connection with the Universe comes from within, and is eternal. And it is in connection that we find sanity.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Nancy Soares October 3, 2016 at 11:21 am

There are some things I’d like to add to this post, but didn’t want to put in the body of the text. I’ve been catching up on my reading and I noticed there seem to be a lot of people writing about the healing power of Nature, and the tremendously positive experience of connecting to Mother Earth. Here are a few quotes: “We often feel closest to the land when it requires attention and labor from us, and so such play is a way of reconnecting to the earth.” – Diana Saverin, writing in Sierra, May/June 2016. “Rugged play” is defined as activities such as kayaking and mountaineering that engage our minds, bodies, and spirits fully in order to survive.

Also, “Roughly 20% of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have post-traumatic stress disorder, which can lead to alcohol or drug abuse, domestic violence, or even suicide. People who care about helping these vets are learning that getting them outdoors and into wilderness can be a powerful remedy.” – Michael Brune in Sierra, November/December 2015.

Here’s another one: “The sacredness of the wilderness experience remained intact until the last night, when I turned on my iPhone to snap a family photo and was jolted by the pinging sound of an incoming test message. Our final campsite was within range of a cell tower. Suddenly the wilderness felt a lot less wild.” – Tim Shuff writing about experiencing wilderness without technology in Adventure Kayak, Summer/Fall 2016.

And another: “Transformational experiences matter to the people who have them, but are puzzling to everyone else. That’s why outdoor adventurers are so tribal: we seek people who understand our experiences even if we haven’t had them together.” – Neil Schulman in Adventure Kayak, Early Summer 2016.

And lastly: “What we now call wilderness was once simply the world. Our ancestors evolved here. Our neural architecture formed in these places where wolves and bears and lions thrived, where life was hard and the air was clean. In our new, human-created world, we have many wonderful things… but without time back in the world we’re from, we go insane. In wilderness, we’re home.” Aaron Teasdale in Sierra, November/December 2015.

Okay, now I feel like I’ve said everything I wanted to say for now on this topic 🙂 Please read Crocodiles and Ice. You’ll be glad you did. You can also check out Eric’s review of The Raven’s Gift, another of Jon Turk’s wonderful stories, at


Susan Conrad October 4, 2016 at 8:18 am

Excellent review! Thank you for sharing this. I had the privilege of speaking alongside Jon on a panel entitled “The Natural World Memoir.” If you have the opportunity to see Jon speak, do not miss it! He is clearly passionate about everything he does in life.
Susan Conrad


Nancy Soares October 4, 2016 at 8:38 am

You’re so very welcome, Susan. Thank you for reading and commenting. I did have the pleasure of seeing Jon perform with the dance troupe in the Mission District in SF back in 2012. It was just after my husband died, and I had recently read The Raven’s Gift. In fact, it was the first book I decided to read after he died. I was lucky enough to meet Jon and go for a long walk with him on the bike trail in Half Moon Bay. We talked about life and death and loss and healing and it was very helpful to me.

Glad you enjoyed the review, and thanks again for your comment.


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