Reading the North

November 30, 2013 

Small Feet, Big Land: Adventure, Home and Family on the Edge of Alaska

Erin McKittrick (Mountaineers Books, $18.95)

The blurb: This is the story of the challenging expeditions and intimate family life of adventure trekker Erin McKittrick and her husband, Hig, as they set out to explore the vast and remote corners of Alaska with their two young children in tow. After walking thousands of miles through harsh and beautiful wilderness together on earlier treks, Erin and Hig must adjust to the short attention span -- and even shorter legs -- of a toddler, and the weight of a newborn baby.

Excerpt: Katmai whined about his cold hands. That's what happens when you plunge your nice dry mittens into an icy stream immediately after we put them on you! But instead of shouting out the I-told-you-so, I muttered it to myself, out of toddler earshot. I knew that level of common sense was beyond a two-and-a-half-year-old's brain. I knew he was tired. I knew it was simply a collision of immature moods and an imperfect world. Hig swung Katmai up onto his back, arranging him in the wrap with his hands tucked against dad's warm neck.

Whining was easy here. Not just for the kids, but for me as well: The kids aren't letting me get anything done. The kids are screaming at me. Lituya is fussy. My feet are cold. It's awkward to wear Lituya on front. I don't like crossing this opaque glacial water carrying the kids. I wish we had a drier place for the baby to play. I wish Katmai would fall asleep more quickly. I wish ... Two days in, the kinks in our system were as numerous as the solutions.

But already the days were strangely, wonderfully relaxing.

A sharp whistle rang out from the rocks ahead of us. "Marmot!"

"No, it must be a bird."

The whistles kept coming, long and shrill, and utterly marmotlike. Marmots are fuzzy rodents that resemble guinea pigs and live in alpine boulder piles. It wasn't strange to see them in Alaska, but it was strange to see them here.

Salmon, People and Place: A Biologist's Search for Salmon Recovery

Jim Lichatowich (University of Oregon Press, $22.95)

The blurb: Acclaimed fisheries biologist Jim Lichatowich exposes the misconceptions underlying salmon management and recovery programs that have fueled the catastrophic decline in Northwest salmon populations for more than a century. These programs will continue to fail, he suggests, as long as they regard salmon as products and ignore their essential relationship with their habitat.

Excerpt: A stream meanders in the flat at the base of a low gradient slope. The course of the stream is clearly marked by a thin band of alders that snake across the clear-cut. It's a large cut extending down the slope to the stream and beyond, taking in most of the flat. I walk the length of the stream where it crosses the naked land, checking the strip of trees left in the riparian zone. The loggers followed the rules and left the required number of trees, but what they left is a puny substitute for the forest.

After checking the stream, I take a break before going on to the next clear-cut. Sitting on a large stump looking at the thin green line of alders, I think about the fate of the stream and its coho salmon. I think about the hubris that allows us to call this resource management.

I visited the site of this clear-cut several weeks before it was logged. At that time, the forest and its small stream were very different. The forest floor and the stream were in deep shade protected from direct exposure by a drippy green canopy. The shaded and moist understory was ideal habitat for the wood-sorrel, oxalis. The delicate herb with clover-like leaves covered the forest floor with a lush carpet of green. Today, the ground is dry and parched under the summer sun. The oxalis and their habitat are gone.

Deadly Summers in Alaska

S.A.E. Sam (Abbott Press, $18.99)

The blurb: A serial killer is on the loose in Alaska killing women who all look alike. Each woman is found abandoned in the uninhabited wilderness and the only commonality among them is that they all physically resemble Denise "Birdie" Beardtom, an Alaska State Trooper.

Excerpt: Trooper Miles walked in startling her. Geez looks like you saw a ghost what's up he asked her? These women could all be twins or close to twins Birdie told him. This is getting really bad, it's looking like we might have a serial here. And that means we need to find Henry fast, to shed some light on this. Without a connection we have nothing, we need to find those bodies. No bodies turned up in Wyoming or Idaho either ...

The thing I noticed too is that they all disappeared on a Friday the second week of June. Could be someone who works and goes on vacation the same time every year. Something like that. The other thing is Nikki Wills disappeared from a bar in the early morning of Saturday June 12th, why from a bar. All the other women disappeared from parks or outside where there's no chance of someone seeing them. And Nikki is brown eyes and curly brown hair, all the others were blond and blue eyes. Could she have been a fluke, an impulse or is there someone else from that time that we are missing and she's random.

That's what we need to find out Trooper Miles told her, we need a break in this, something has to break.

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