Reading the North


By David James Inulak Lum (Snowy Owl Books, $25)

The blurb: For years, tour guide Daniel James Inulak Lum has brought visitors as well as his children out to the remote corners of Barrow, one of the northernmost cities in the world, to witness polar bears and walrus on the dark sandy beaches. Over time, he has been a witness to the profound environmental changes taking place as his homeland shifts and disappears before his eyes. Lum's vivid photographs of whales, polar bears and birds offer rare close-ups of animals few ever see. The author lives in Barrow and runs tours there with his family, specializing in trips to Nuvuk.

Excerpt: The summer in Barrow is a marathon -- 24 hours of sunlight for 82 cays creates an endless day. This long period of continuous light allows for enough hunting and whaling to store enough meat and blubber to last through the long, severe winter. It is common to see aluminum foil covering bedroom windows around town, keeping the bright sun from weary eyes... The winter in Barrow is an endurance test. For 68 days the sun dips beneath the horizon and does not return. Extreme cold temperatures coupled with strong, consistent winds intensify the absence of sunlight, and a true understanding of winter is attained after spending time there. If you can make it through an entire year in Barrow, you have heart.

Feast and Famine of a Culinary Vagabond

By Wolfgang Lord Erbe (German-American Books, $14.95)

The blurb: Wolfgang Lord Erbe escaped the Russian Army as a child and learned the culinary profession as a way to escape starvation. Immigrating to the United States, he built a stellar career, only to have to rebuild it when tragedy struck. Trained in hotel management, restaurant service and catering, he was at one time executive chef for Alaska Airlines. He now owns his own acclaimed restaurant.

Excerpt: I had almost completed two years of employment at the hotel when the call came to begin my job on Alaska's North Slope and to report to Camp Lonely as it was called. I boarded an Alaska Airlines flight to Anchorage, there changing to a Boeing 737 combi airplane used mainly for cargo and having only a few seats in the rear where there was one flight attendant to keep me company. We flew over Mount McKinley. It was majestic in its rugged, wild beauty with its ridges and crevasses of snow and ice. It is part of the Alaska Range mountains. Passing over the Brooks Range mountains, they appeared to be chiseled into a white, motionless, stark ocean of frozen peaks and valleys. A thought hit me -- is this what eternity looks like? Landing on solid ice with a rough bounce, I had my head down and my arms around my legs as instructed. The plane could easily go into a spin or slide, my travel companion told me... The kitchen worked on 12-hour shifts and was open 24 hours a day. The crews were in constant rotation, coming and going from the oil rigs by helicopters. It must be pretty nasty, I thought, being exposed to the ever-changing rough weather. And it was. The food was set up to give the men maximum nourishment with no frills.

Compiled by Kathleen Macknicki, Anchorage Daily News