A Land Gone Lonesome
Dan O'Neill, A Land Gone Lonesome: An Inland Voyage along the Yukon River (New York: Persius Books Group), 2006.
The trip by Dan O'Neill in his square-sterner canoe down the Yukon is only the setting for a much bigger story. With each stop along the way, O'Neill tells the story of the person who settled in that place, built the buildings he describes, or occupied the area. It is a story of a land that is slowly emptying of inhabitants due, in part, to a lack of understanding of the nature of wilderness and attempts to manage the wilderness as a place that humans only visit, rather than as a place to live. I'm sure that there are forest service managers who would take issue with some of his observations, but clearly the book is the product of a love of the land and a deep knowledge of the stories that have opened the land so that it is possible for people to visit.
O'Neill paints what is probably the last portrait of the people living along the upper Yukon as the beautiful and sometimes hostile wilderness becomes a place with fewer and fewer settlers and the cabins and dwellings crumble back into the earth.
Of special delight to a reader like myself who is not from Alaska is O'Neill's insider perspective. He knows the people. He appreciates what they have done to make a living in that place. He tells their stories with honest and genuine love. I suspect that this will be a book worth reading decades from now as people look back and try to remember what it was like.