A writer and photographer offers a thoughtful exploration of the vital role played by salmon in Alaskan communities.
Gulick (Salmon in the Trees, 2010), whose work has appeared in Audubon and National Wildlife, follows up her preceding book with this well-reported and gorgeously illustrated volume about the intimate, complex relationship between salmon and the Alaskan people. Salmon is a gift, the author explains, and those who receive it all share a “deep connection to these remarkable fish,” though they may sometimes disagree on the best way to use and protect the prize they’ve been given. Alaska is one of the few places that still has a flourishing population of wild salmon, Gulick asserts before interviewing people whose very existence depends on the continued health of salmon runs. Some are transplants who run the sport-fishing businesses that attract tourists to America’s last frontier; others are commercial fishermen; and several are Alaska Natives who keep centuries-old traditions alive when they catch and preserve the flavorful fish. The author provides an up-close look at “the salmon way” as she ventures out on a fishing boat, travels by seaplane into the wilderness, encounters bears, and sits down for many meals as she gets to know “the salmon people of Alaska.” The result is a vivid portrait of a place that will likely be foreign to many readers; 18% of the population still harvests fish, game, and plants in order to survive. Those who embrace a subsistence way of life (either by choice or necessity) might seem poor to outsiders, but they “consider themselves the richest people in the world,” with access to the vast variety of nature’s bounty, as Gulick explains. Her conversations with those who depend on salmon deftly show how the fish are a vital link in the state’s environmental and economic systems but also how they bind families and communities together. Few who read this illuminating book or see the author’s awe-inspiring color photographs will fail to come away with a sense that this is a way of life well worth preserving.
A rich, compelling look at a thriving yet increasingly threatened natural resource and those who depend on it.