year of books – February

2014 goals, C.B. Bernard, Chasing Alaska, reading

Well, I didn’t get through the book in the allotted 28 days, but not for a lack of trying during the last five. Ha. Oh well. I finished on March 5, and now it’s taken me this long to stop being distracted with other things and write this down.

For February, I picked “Chasing Alaska: A portrait of the Last Frontier then and now,” by C.B. Bernard, called “part history, part journalism, part memoir,” by Alaska Dispatch.

I was fortunate enough to meet the author when he came through town in December. I have a signed copy and everything. He was a pretty nice guy, and I would have enjoyed listening to his stories for much longer than the hour he had.

He moved to Sitka, Alaska in 1999 from Massachusetts, to work as a reporter at the family-owned newspaper there. He wrote in the front cover of my book, “For Marjorie, another reporter in the Last Frontier.” So of course, I feel a certain kinship there.

In the first chapter of the book he writes about sucker holes — the space of blue sky between the clouds that makes you believe the weather will improve but is simply a cruel lie. He covers the rain, the mass expanse of land and water, and the breathtaking views a person sees once they arrive.

He also writes about the change of it all — why a person comes this far north and west, the allure of Alaska and how it all feels in the process. I related so much to what he wrote and shared.

“Books and magazines perpetuate Alaska as a mythical, savage place, equal parts nature documentary and wildlife theme park, but my first impressions revealed an urban side as well: houses, the occasional lawn, a small but bustling downtown of gift shops, cafes and drugstores. But it wasn’t the suburbs I knew. On my first day, my newspaper ran front-page stories about a humpback whale that torpedoed a 78-foot sailboat at anchor and a brown bear that dragged two dogs into the woods. Welcome to Alaska.”

And the beautiful next sentence: “Before I left New England, I filled a bottle in the Atlantic to remind me of my beginnings. I turned out I didn’t need it. If you go back far enough, all water flows from the same source.”

Bernard’s lovely prose weaves his story of living and working in Alaska with his great-uncle’s, who came to Alaska to explore the Arctic. Bernard includes excerpts of his uncle’s diaries to contrast the turn-of-the-century experience with his own.

I found the book to be engaging, lovely and wonderful. I appreciated that it did not portray Alaska as a mythical, savage place. Though he outlines some of the social issues in Alaska, which are quite savage.

Bottom line: Highly recommended.

Chasing Alaska

Next up: The first of two books by Erin McKittrick, “A Long Trek Home: 4,000 miles by boot, raft and ski.

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