Reading the North

Chasing Alaska: A Portrait of the Last Frontier, Then and Now

C.B. Bernard (Lyons Press, $18.95)

The blurb: Alaska looms as a mythical, savage place, part nature preserve, part theme park, too vast to understand fully -- which is why C.B. Bernard lashed his canoe to his truck and traded the comforts of the Lower 48 for a remote island and a career as a reporter.

He soon learned that a distant relation had made the same trek northwest a century earlier. Capt. Joe Bernard spent decades in Alaska ... C.B. chased the legacy of this explorer and hunter up the family tree, tracking his correspondence, locating artifacts, and finding his journals at the University of Alaska Fairbanks ... Here in crisp, crystalline prose is his moving portrait of the Last Frontier, then and now.

Excerpt: "Blinded, lost and alone, Sandstrom likely became hypothermic and made a mistake, something as simple as removing a mitten to adjust a strap, a button or a lace. That's all it takes for the cold to find a point of exposure, a single unthinking act from muscle memory. When his partner's dog team arrived at camp without its driver, Joe, unable to walk until his own leg healed, organized a search party that found Sandstrom's sleeping bag and, some distance away, his cap and a single mitten. His tracks disappeared into the snow. They never found his body.

"Among Joe's personal correspondence is a letter from H.T. 'Ned' Arey, a prospector in the area since 1901, delivered by one of Joe's Native helpers. He and his son Gallagher had joined Leffingwell, Storkerson and a group of Eskimos in the search.

" 'I am afraid that your partner is lost and frozen. On the 26th I found his sled, sleeping bag and dog harness about 4 miles west of my house ... When he left there he must have been frozen some, as his footsteps were very short and uncertain. We will look for him again.'

"Seven hundred miles from Nome, locked in ice, injured and alone in the Teddy Bear's winter quarters. An inauspicious start to Joe's maiden Arctic voyage."

A Kodiak Bear Mauling

R. Keith Rogan (Leapfrog Press, $15)

The blurb: The author wrote: "This book revolves around my own mauling in 1998. I have tried to render the events of that day as accurately as possible. I also discuss other recent injuries and deaths around Alaska, with many of the details drawn directly from survivors or witnesses of those events.

"There is some humor here as well, to illustrate just how accommodating these animals can be when we observe proper bear etiquette. This is an educational book that both the novice and the seasoned outdoorsman or hunter will appreciate and enjoy. With this work, I seek to make Alaska a safer place for both humans and our ursine neighbors.

"The paperback edition includes a bonus photo section by the very talented Alaskan photographer, Adina Preston."

Excerpt: "Meeting the eyes of a grizzly is an interesting experience because those eyes hold real intelligence and power. The eyes of other common Alaskan animals such as moose or caribou reveal little beyond fear or vague curiosity. A ruminant's brain has very little room for much beyond eating, fleeing and mating. Your attention is drawn to other things on such an animal, the antlers perhaps ...

"A bear is a different proposition altogether. The wide brown eyes of this predator are expressive and calculating and meeting them is to know that you are looking into the mind of a thinking animal. I cannot stress that difference enough, though it is difficult to articulate this to people who have not had the experience.

"When meeting a grizzly at close range you generally find yourself waiting for the animal to make a decision -- to leave, hopefully. Your eyes will lock with those of the bear and there will be some sort of visceral communication taking place. You can watch the play of emotion and calculation cross the animal's face ... Are you a threat? Are you food? Can he take those succulent salmon or berries you are holding?"

There's a Moose in My Garden

Brenda C. Adams (Snowy Owl Books, $35)

The Blurb: What do you do when a young moose calf wants to dine on your freshly planted Siberian iris? How do you harness the wild beauty of the north for your own backyard? "There's a Moose in My Garden" tackles these questions and more with practical advice from an award-winning gardener. Adams provides helpful tips for far northern gardeners on how to design and build beautiful and healthy gardens. The book outlines the entire planning and planting process, covering such aspects as low-angled sun, soft light, expansive vistas and a cool climate.

Excerpt: "Evaluating Plants from a Design Perspective

"While those of us who garden in the Far North may not enjoy the overwhelming number and variety of plants available to gardeners in more temperate climates, we certainly have more than enough options to create compellingly beautiful gardens in whatever style and color scheme we choose. Furthermore, our mild summer climate gives us the opportunity to grow some wonderful plants that struggle in the lower latitudes and do it with ease -- Himalayan blue poppies, primroses and delphiniums, to name a few.

"A healthy clump of any one of these three in your garden will generate lots of plant envy among gardeners who toil in sweltering summers. So let's celebrate what we can grow, try plants from similar latitudes around the globe, and explore interesting choices that other Alaska gardeners are growing with success."