Former National Park Service ranger Heacox (John Muir and the Ice that Started a Fire: How a Visionary and the Glaciers of Alaska Changed America, 2014, etc.) lyrically recounts his passionate and enduring relationship with Alaska’s Denali National Park, a chunk of Alaskan land the size of Massachusetts with only one road.
Established in 1917, Mount McKinley National Park is also known by its Athabaskan name of Denali, and Heacox first experienced it in 1981 while working as an interpretive ranger for the Park Service. The author builds his narrative, which spans 35 years, on his deep and personal exploration of the sacredness of wild places, especially Denali, and why these landscapes are so necessary to all humans and animals in today’s crowded, noisy world. Heacox deftly traverses a multitude of topics, including his happy childhood spent roaming the Northwest, the influence of music, especially the Beatles, during his teenage years, and the natural and human histories of the park. As the narrative unfolds, the author acknowledges his predecessors, environmental writers such as John Muir, Edward Abbey and Bill McKibben, while also touching on current environmental issues and climate change. Though Heacox voices strong opinions on land use and bemoans America’s consumer culture, his tone is never shrill or self-righteous. Rather, by recounting the stories of the explorers, scientists, government officials, historians, tourists, climbers and park employees whose lives have been touched by Denali, Heacox skillfully reveals the many benefits of this grand open space, as well as its fragility. The park’s wildlife—moose, eagles, red fox, sandhill cranes, grizzly bears, porcupines and wolves—share the stage with human actors in Heacox’s chronicle.
Top-notch environmental writing to shelve alongside George Perkins Marsh, Aldo Leopold, Robert Marshall and Barry Lopez.