Book review: With hunting as the catalyst, ‘The Land We Share’ ponders life’s lessons and relationships

“The Land We Share: A love affair told in hunting stories”

By Christine Cunningham and Steve Meyer; Alaska Geographic, 2023; 260 pages; $19.95.

Fall has recently arrived in Interior Alaska, and depending on who you ask, it’s either come too quickly or not soon enough. For a large swath of Alaskans, “too quickly” is the immediate response, but for hunters, currently welcoming the season openings occurring across the state, it’s about time.

Contrary to the stereotypes many hold, hunters (or the ones who know what they’re doing, at least) spend very little time shooting their guns, and endless amounts of time preparing for the moment when the trigger will be pulled. Plans need to be made, equipment bought and maintained, transportation arranged, landscapes studied, and much more. Economically, it makes no sense, lifelong hunter Steve Meyer tells us, admitting that “most of the game meat consumed costs twice what the best New York steak does per pound.”

Meyer’s partner in hunting as well as life, Christine Cunningham, recognizes this fact as well, but like him, sees beyond the money. Hunting isn’t about the meat, she tells us. It’s about the land itself, about becoming enmeshed with all that dwells upon it, thereby becoming a steward. “As a hunter,” she explains, “my investment in wild animals and wild places changed so that not only did my appreciation deepen, so did my responsibility.”

Cunningham and Meyer were longtime outdoors columnists in the Anchorage Daily News, recounting their hunting adventures and experiences on the land, while pondering the lessons this life has taught them along the way. The columns themselves are presently on hiatus, but a large selection of previously published ones have recently been gathered together into a book appropriately titled “The Land We Share: A love affair told in hunting stories.”

I call the title appropriate, because while hunting is the catalyst for nearly all that is discussed in these pages, the land itself, and our relationship with it, with wildlife, with dogs, and with each other are the real topics. As with real life hunting, there isn’t much in the way of shooting here. Cunningham and Meyer are more focused on the groundwork involved in getting to that point. It’s ground that we all share.


Cunningham grew up in Alaska, but never tried hunting until adulthood. It happened after she met Meyer, a lifelong hunter who spent his first 12 years on a farm in rural North Dakota before his family moved north. Cunningham was born into Alaska, Meyer was born into hunting, and together they have come to know and love the wilds and each other through the hard work of obtaining sustenance from the land.

It’s land they travel most often by foot, usually accompanied by hunting dogs, a number of whom play supporting roles and sometimes even emerge as lead characters in the stories that unfold in these brief essays. Watching these dogs through the eyes of the authors, running across open lands and doing the jobs their genetic lines have prepared them for, is one of the joys of this book, and one of the countless ways the authors explore relationships.

The couple’s dogs are bird dogs, and bird hunting is by far the context for most of these essays. Both Cunningham and Meyer reach into their respective pasts, describing the ins and outs of a sport that demands patience and skill. Simply learning to spot wild fowl is an acquired art that comes with close observations of the landscape. And these observations are what both authors offer in endless variations. They pay attention to details.

It’s from these details that their relationship with the land itself, the heart of the multiple relationships explored here, is crystalized. To hunt is to not just visit the land, but to live upon it as all life does, understanding that all lives persist at the expense of other lives, be it plant or animal. Arguments abound both for and against hunting and the killing of wildlife, and there are persuasive points raised by both sides. But the reality of death as necessary for life is often overlooked in these debates, and Meyer, in particular, is well adept at explaining this. Both excel at placing hunting within this holistic context in a way that non-hunters might not easily grasp on their own.

Much of the land the couple hunts on is public land, and from the very first page, the intrinsic value of preserving that land, where the natural world progresses in its own fashion and humans seek renewal, is a persistent theme in this book.

If there is a shortcoming here at all, it’s hardly the fault of the authors. It’s the nature of their material. These essays originated as newspaper columns and are by design brief. Both Meyer and Cunningham have mastered the economy of language required to maximize how much can be said in such a short space. For reading on the fly (or at night in the tent on a camping trip) it’s ideal, but with only three to four pages per essay, there is not a lot of room for expanding on ideas worthy of further attention.

What would be interesting, therefore, would be a follow-up memoir that tells the story in a more linear fashion. A book aimed at sharing with readers how the couple’s relationship with the land and each other developed in tandem, while offering lengthier accounts of their adventures with their dogs, and most importantly, exploring how hunting fits into public land use. It’s a topic that gets lost in frequently emotional debates on how this land should be shared. Sometimes non-hunters fail to recognize that ethical hunters, something the authors most definitely are, also have a vested interest in conservation. That mutual objective of keeping land undeveloped and accessible (inherently contradictory objectives requiring careful balance) should be common ground to build from rather than fight over. Meyer and Cunningham offer a thoughtful perspective that is too often overlooked and should be listened to.

What should also be listened to are the dogs, the wildlife, and the land itself. This book honors all of that and more.

David James

David A. James is a Fairbanks-based freelance writer, and editor of the Alaska literary collection “Writing on the Edge.” He can be reached at