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GREEN ALASKA by Nancy Lord


Dreams from the Far Coast

by Nancy Lord

Pub Date: May 1st, 1999
ISBN: 1-58243-002-0
Publisher: Counterpoint

A thoughtful and imaginative tour of the Alaskan landscape, past and present, by a laureate of the tundra. In 1899, writes Lord (Fishcamp: My Life on an Alaskan Shore, 1997), —the Bill Gates of a century ago,— Edward H. Harriman, funded an exotic dream vacation for himself: he fitted a steamship —with motor launches and canoes, a piano and organ, weaponry for hunting, horses and tents, cases of champagne and the requisite thin-stemmed glasses, a library, the latest audio and visual equipment,— along with a 65-man crew and the livestock to feed them. Added to this roster were some of the nation’s leading naturalists, writers, and artists—C. Hart Merriam, the mammalogist and head of the US Biological Survey; Edward Curtis, the photographer of American Indian life; George Bird Grinnell, editor of Field and Stream and a founder of the Audubon Society; John Muir, the naturalist and wilderness philosopher; and John Burroughs, also a naturalist, who was one of the country’s most popular writers. Lord reconstructs their witty and learned journey as this latter-day Solon and his entourage traveled across the Far North, calling on native fishing villages and gold-rush camps, collecting samples of animal and bird life that would enrich the holdings of the Smithsonian Institution and other museums, and chronicling all that they saw. Lord has no small adventures herself as she retraces the Harriman Expedition’s steps, including a memorable encounter with a grizzly bear; she also notes all that has disappeared in the century since the Harriman party came to Alaska, including many species and many Native American cultures and languages. A beautifully written contribution to what might be called the literary history of science, on a par with Ivan Doig’s Winter Brothers and Barry Lopez’s Arctic Dreams.