Reading the North

Beyond Ophir: Confessions of an Iditarod Musher -- An Alaska Odyssey by Jim Lanier
My Wonderful Life with Diabetes by Rick Mystrom

Beyond Ophir: Confessions of an Iditarod Musher -- An Alaska Odyssey

Jim Lanier (Publication Consultants, $24.95)

The blurb: Jim Lanier had a good life going -- in addition to having a great family, he was a successful pathologist and sometime singer. Then he went to the dogs, ran the Iditarod in 1979 and has never recovered.

Excerpt: How did it begin? I mean, how did I begin to be a musher? How did I go to the dogs? It began, like all journeys, with a single step and like this book, with a single stroke of my pen.

Reaching way back to my childhood in Fargo, N.D., I was never permitted to have a dog, or any pet. My mother couldn't and wouldn't tolerate an animal in or around her house. That explains a lot, I think, for nowadays my lifestyle entails up to 50 dogs in my kennel, a stone's throw from my house. (Parents, pay heed!)

Circa 1975. For Christmas I gave my kids a newly weaned Siberian husky puppy. We named it "Koaklik," from a Yup'ik Eskimo word supplied by a dear Alaska Native woman from St. Mary's, Maggie Sipary. Come summer, I attached Koaklik to a bicycle, and the kids' puppy became my puppy as we roamed the bike paths of Anchorage. Little did I know then where that puppy was leading me, like I don't know where I'm going with this book. It's really all "Beyond Ophir."

When a bicycle with one dog begged for more, I acquired two additional huskies. Winter arrived, and I switched to skis. A dog pulling its human on skis is called skijoring, a popular and reasonable sport. Three dogs pulling is called madness, which I soon discovered. Emboldened by success with one dog, one evening I risked all three of them, and we shot off down the street and onto some trails on the campus of Alaska Pacific University. Right away it hit me that I had bitten off too big a bite. I was a moderately adept skier, but rocketing along at 20 mph in dim light, on the outskirts of control and with no means of stopping, other than a crash, was too much. Exciting, though. ... After a couple of those crashes, I terminated the run and concluded that a dogsled loomed large on my horizon.

My Wonderful Life with Diabetes

Rick Mystrom (Publication Consultants, $25)

The blurb: Rick Mystrom was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in 1964. Now at 69 years of age, and a diabetic for 49 years, Rick has no diabetic complications and is a paragon of good health. A recent stress test categorized him as an "active 42-year-old." He credits his good health to good eating habits, an active lifestyle and an understanding of diabetes.

Excerpt: So I Got Elected -- Now What?

I was probably as naive about politics as most first-time elected officials. I actually thought everyone wanted smaller, more efficient, less costly government. Boy, was I wrong! The Assembly was split with five conservatives, five liberals and one moderate: me. I was in the process of moving more to the conservative side but hadn't completely let go of the liberal influence ingrained in me at the University of Colorado. Not only was I the swing vote on many issues but I was also seated between a quick-witted arch-conservative, Fred Chiei, and a smart, likeable liberal, Jane Angvik. They often engaged in acerbic debates that make Nancy Pelosi and Rush Limbaugh seem like valentine sweethearts.

During budget debates in Anchorage, hundreds of people filled the assembly hall to speak out for more government programs or less government spending. Some, amazingly, spoke out for both. It didn't take me long to come to a very revealing and probably pretty obvious way of predicting how people were going to testify. Those people who were primarily tax receivers or associated with tax-receiving groups supported larger city budgets and therefore higher taxes. Those who were primarily taxpayers and not associated with tax-receiving groups supported smaller city budgets and lower taxes.

The same holds true at the national level and probably has ever since the federal income tax was first authorized in 1861 to pay for the Civil War.

Compiled by Kathleen Macknicki, Anchorage Daily News.