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In this lively Northwestern autobiography about the Short family in Alaska, a cheechako is a greenhorn. Pap Short, a nonconformist who once lived on the Arizona desert, decides to takes his wife and three sons to Alaska in 1946, not waiting for government permission but striking out on his own. The family settles down in Surprise Harbor, a truly forlorn place miles and miles from human habitation. He's bought a 22-foot steel-hulled lifeboat and converted it into a fishing schooner. About fishing he knows nothing and the Scandinavian fishermen he meets clannishly keep their secrets to themselves. A new friend, though, instructs the sons and soon they are following the various fish as they come in season and often make $200-plus daily for their catches. On shore they live in a tiny cabin they've built and have to spend a great deal of time shooting the great brown bears bothering them. When the fishing season ends they take up seal hunting and, after that, trapping mink. Thus passes their first year as greenhorns. Filling out the narrative are the fish themselves, the dangerous bears, a baby seal named Enrico and the lore of man against the Alaskan elements. Short genuinely captures the feel of living in a day that is only six hours long but demands twelve hours work.

Publisher: Random House