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THE STARS, THE SNOW, THE FIRE by John Haines

THE STARS, THE SNOW, THE FIRE

By John Haines

Pub Date: May 26th, 1989
Publisher: Gray Wolf

Exquisite--sometimes preciously so--autobiographical wilderness essays by an accomplished poet (Winter News, 1966: The Stone Harp, 1971). Since 1947, Haines has homesteaded in Alaska on-and-off for a total of 25 years. The 18 essays here--collected from publications like the Anchorage Daily News, Antaeus, and New England Review--date from the mid-70's on, and manifest a mostly felicitous blend of keen natural observation and literary ambition. Typical is the exciting essay ""Out of the Shadows,"" in which Haines leaps from a terse and tense account of his real-life encounter with a grizzly bear to a feverish, imagined death at the bear's claws (""in that instant of confusion and shock I was joined to the hot blood and rank fur at last""); or the pungent ""Burning a Porcupine,"" in which preparing a porcupine for cooking, described in graphic detail, seems to Haines ""an occasional sacrifice before the memory of a long-ago woods spirit""; or the eerie piece on people disappearing in the woods, ""Lost,"" where Haines muses that ""a drowsy, half-wakeful menace waits for us in the quietness of this world."" And so myriad aspects of the natural world of Richardson, Alaska--a flying squirrel, wolves spotted loping along a river, patterns of ice and shadow, his fellow villagers--prove fodder for Haines' intense, at times almost apocalyptic vision, one that oscillates wildly between near-photographic takes (""The blue bulge of [the rabbit's] gut lay half-spilled from the body and shone brightly, glazed with blood . ."") and writerly excess (""Here before me the river is still awake, still speaking in its halt-choked mutter and murmur. . .""). Strongest when, with a poet's precision, Haines reports on nature; weakest when, with a poet's sentiment, Haines reports on Haines.