Alaska historian and log-cabin inhabitant O’Neill takes a boat down the central part of the imposing Yukon River in the heart of the continent’s northwest extremity; he encounters big bears and beavers, moose, lonesome bearded guys and strong women.
Canadian author Pierre Berton and poet Robert W. Service each famously chronicled their homes in Dawson, Yukon Territory. In 1937, Ernie Pyle visited Eagle, Alaska, and 40 years later John McPhee wrote of Eagle in his widely praised Coming Into the Country. Now O’Neill bravely goes where those men have gone before; his journal of his own voyage of rediscovery is equally wonderful. He reports on the wildlife and highlights the important of salmon, the staple food for the people of the Yukon basin. He visits the moribund, silent cabins of departed subsistence people and the historic, vanishing structures doomed by bureaucratic parkland management. He considers the shoreline ghost towns and the detritus left by the sourdough loners of the bush. The riparian natural history is fine, and the human history is even better. O’Neill memorably updates McPhee’s good story of Dick Cook, who, he discloses, may have been “in possession of rhetorical gifts that fit pretty well into a long tradition of frontier gasbaggery,” and he completes Pyle’s tale of intrepid mail carrier Biederman. He tells of fabled Seymour Able and talkative Phonograph Nelson. Whether it’s about boats or eagles or hardy trappers, whether it commemorates a monumental dog race or celebrates the magnanimous code of the prospectors of the Yukon Territory and the 49th state, the reportage is as cool and bright as the flowing waters of the Yukon.
Another writerly gold strike in the Klondike.