Reading the north

As the Gurdy Turns

By Ron Rau (Comet Publishing, $20)

The blurb: Ron Rau's collection of short stories about fishing in Southeast Alaska were written for commercial fishing journals and national sporting magazines, covering the lifestyle, politics, weather, prices and challenge of fishing in that area from the late '70s to the early 2000s.

Excerpt: "For the past five summers, I have been chasing Pacific salmon around southeastern Alaska. I have been chasing them in a 28-foot wooden boat, fishing for them with hooks and line, trying to make a living out of it. I have my favorite lures; one is a metal spoon, copper and bronze. It has scratches on it from the teeth of king salmon. I've had it for three years now, and I'm sure it has caught more than $2,000 worth of fish. I'm going to hate to lose it, but I will someday. The ocean will get it eventually.

"Another of my favorite lures is a plastic plug. It has a milk-white belly and a blue herring-bone pattern on the back with a black stripe down the middle. The colors are faded, except for the yellow and black eyes. It too is covered with teeth marks. When I'm alone on the boat, I sometimes talk to this plug. I admitted this once to some other fisherman and spawned a raft of similar confessions."

Dirt Work: An Education in the Woods

By Christine Byl (Beacon Press, $24.95)

The blurb: The Healy author recounts her unlikely apprenticeship as a "traildog" in Montana's Glacier National Park and shares what she learned about nature, gender and the value of hard work.

Excerpt: " 'Do you have jobs yet for this summer?' Ralph asked when he called in March. Gabe had spoken to the trails foreman in Denali National Park the year before, but he didn't have two leader positions then, and we went to the Forest Service instead. Ralph seemed nice enough. Heavy on the sales pitch, but nice.

" 'We're going back to Cordova if nothing else comes up,' answered Gabe. At hiring time, we seasonals hold our cards close. 'Is something coming up?'

" 'It never rains here,' joked Ralph. 'If it weren't for the winters, we'd probably qualify as a desert.' Ralph guessed that, after a season in the rainforest, the desert would appeal. And he was right. Not to mention other stakes: much higher NPS wages (though proudly, we'd never yet taken a job based just on pay), and the siren song of a park that bewitches every mountain lover with its renowned peaks and ranges, a lifetime of trips in our potential backyard. We went all in."

Compiled by Matt Sullivan, Anchorage Daily News