Skip to main Content
We Alaskans

Reading the North: Photicular look at Arctic and outhouse octopus

Polar: A Photicular Book

By Carol Kaufmann with photos/videos by Dan Kainen; ?Workman Publishing; $25.95

What it's about: Take a journey to the ends of the earth through the colorful, fluid motion of Photicular technology, A phenomenon first seen in previous books by the authors, "Safari" and "Ocean," Photicular technology uses sliding lenses and video imagery to display realistic motion in the pages of a book. It's like a movie in your hand. A walrus lumbers across the snowy landscape. There's a polar bear with her lively cubs. A beluga whale, breaching. A team of sled dogs sprints directly at the viewer. And the Northern Lights shimmer like a silk rainbow through the star-filled night. National Geographic writer Carol Kaufmann brings the reader along on a voyage to the North and South Poles, and writes an informative essay for each image, including vital statistics for each animal, such as their size, range, habitat and more.

Excerpt: Mush! That single command instantly conjures up visions of gorgeous, blue-eyed dogs running in lockstep, panting hard, hauling a sled and a fur-clad driver over snow-covered hills and ice. Or maybe the Iditarod springs to mind -- the legendary race from Anchorage to Nome. Or Jack London's iconic novel, "The Call of the Wild," and our quest to tame animals that can never truly be tamed.

A sled dog team operates like a well-oiled machine. Trainers must work with a group of dogs when the pups are 5 to 6 months old to acclimate them to wearing harnesses and pulling weight. They must also learn to heed vocal commands and run in a specific place in the pack. The most intelligent dogs lead, the strongest ones pull up the rear. Slowly, the trainers increase the load to get the dogs aerobically fit and strong. Eventually, the dogs will be able to run 40-60 miles at a stretch in temperatures well below freezing.

Thousands of years ago, Eskimos bred dogs with wolves, producing pups that were born to survive freezing temperatures, curling up in snowdrifts for insulation and covering their faces with their tails for warmth. Snowdrifts are like blankets that provide insulation on long hauls. No one knows exactly when someone thought to use dogs for transportation and pulling cargo, but likely it was around 1,000 B.C. In the 19th century, the U.S. and Canadian police used sled dogs to maintain order around the mines during the gold rush. Dog teams also assisted with early exploration of the Arctic and Antarctica and served during World Wars I and II, hauling equipment and supplies and performing search-and-rescue operations.

One of the most famous sled dog expeditions took place in 1925. A relay of dog teams famously carried a diphtheria antidote from Nenana to Nome, a 600-mile journey -- for sick children who would have otherwise died. The journey should have taken a month; the dog teams made it in five days, with a black husky named Balto leading the final two legs in a blizzard.

Today, sled teams serve the Danish special forces that patrol 5,000 miles of Greenland's coast, a vast and uninhabited expanse only accessible because of sled dogs' superior sense of direction and danger. Inuit communities also still use sled dogs for hunting and fishing, and would have to forsake their traditional lifestyle without them. While snowmobiles, helicopters and other motorized vehicles break down and run out of gas, well-trained sled dogs keep going. They also provide incomparable companionship on long, cold journeys in the Arctic, solidifying reputations as man's best friends.

Octopus in the Outhouse

By Stacy Studebaker, illustrated by Kay Underwood; Sense of Place Press; $15

What it's about: The children's book offers a humorous, poetic journey through Alaska with unique views of remote outhouses and encounters with audacious wildlife.

Excerpt: I rode the train to Denali in the middle of September.

To take some beautiful photographs that would help me to remember.

I cruised the road all day, snapping pictures all the way,

But when I stopped to find the "head"

The Ranger advised me to use the bushes instead:

There's a grizzly bear in the outhouse and we just can't get her out

We've tried everything from pepper spray,

To campfire smoke and shouts.

I must say I've never seen anything queerer

Than a grizzly bear staring at herself in the mirror.

There's a grizzly bear in the outhouse and we just can't get her out!

For more newsletters click here

Local news matters.

Support independent, local journalism in Alaska.