Reading the North

July 13, 2013 

The Longest Road: Overland in Search of America, from Key West to the Arctic Ocean

Philip Caputo (Henry Holt, $28)

The blurb: Standing on the weatherworn shores of the Alaska coast, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Philip Caputo watched Inupiat Eskimo schoolchildren pledge allegiance to the same flag as the children of Cuban immigrants in Key West, 6,000 miles away, and began to wonder: How does the United States, as diverse as it is large, remain united? In 2011, in a nation mired in war abroad and rocked by the worst economic calamity since the Great Depression, Caputo loaded his wife and two English setters into an Airstream camper and hit the open road in search of answers.

Excerpt: "In Tok ... we tucked the trailer into a tranquil grove of firs, spruce and birch. Among Tok's roadside attractions was a log cabin with a lawn mower on its sod roof. In the morning, we found a trail through the woods surrounding the campground and let slip the dogs. We'd put bell collars on them because we were in grizzly country, and bear warnings were posted at the trailhead. But we saw no sign of Ursus arctos horribilis.

"Then we left for a town called Chicken. Leslie had found a reference to it in The Milepost and recalled that a trucker we'd met in Anacortes, Wash., told us not to bother going there; the road was in bad shape, and Chicken had burned down in a forest fire. We ignored his travel tip, figuring that since we'd visited Two Egg, Fla., we had to see Chicken, Alaska -- if for no other reason than to find out which came first."

Northern Exposures: An Adventuring Career in Stories and Images

Jonathan Waterman (Snowy Owl Books, $30)

The blurb: North of the sixtieth parallel, the sun shines for less than six hours in the winter, and towering mountains are the only skyscrapers. Pristine waters serve caribou, moose, and bears in an unbroken landscape. At any given moment in this spectacular scenery, there's a chance that Jonathan Waterman is present, trekking across the land. A masterful adventurer, Waterman has spent decades exploring the farthest reaches of our beautiful spaces. The essays and photographs collected in Northern Exposures are a product of this passion for exploration and offer an unparalleled view into adventuring in the north and beyond.

Excerpt: "Sweat beaded on helicopter pilot Jim Porter's forehead as he hovered in towards a pickup at 17,000 feet on Denali. He and I had come for an accident victim who had supposedly broken his neck and now lay in a makeshift litter below us. Porter didn't know that twenty-two years earlier a pilot and rescuer were caught here in a downdraft and killed. No point in telling him now.

"Suddenly the Alouette III plummeted like a broken elevator. Porter throttled the engine full and steered for a huge crevasse as we careened past the surprised faces of the ground team, then down into the blurry cobalt-walled hole, skimming its white floor at ninety miles an hour until we shot out the end of the hanging glacier over eight thousand feet of space. Porter said nothing, his white-knuckled hands clutching the stick, his face an L.A. expressway of sweat. But our night had only begun. We shelved further discussion about the 17,000-foot pickup, because it was obvious that we'd simply try tomorrow when conditions were safer."

Looking Back: A Fairbanks Community Collection of Historic Photographs

(Fairbanks Daily News Miner, $39.95)

The blurb: Photos from as early as 1900 all the way up to the 2000s offer a visual history of the Fairbanks area. See community gatherings, vintage automobiles, the dredge at Gold Hill, newspaper boys, sports teams and much more.

Excerpt: "Fairbanks' second automobile was this 6-cylindar, 40-hp 1908 Franklin, which arrived on the steamer Cudahy. It was shipped (to Fairbanks) by David Laiti and later purchased by Hosea H. Ross, the Fairbanks undertaker. The Franklin transported passengers between Fairbanks and the mining camps and was the first automobile to reach Dome City, 16 miles northeast of Fairbanks."

Compiled by Kathleen Macknicki, Anchorage Daily News

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