Bill and Denali along Turnagain Trail In opening up my month’s worth of guest author postings, I’ll briefly reference an earlier 49 Writers contribution I made way back in September 2010, titled “Some Musings on the Essay.” To quote myself from that piece: “When people ask what I do, or how I make my living, I almost always answer in one of two ways. Depending on the circumstances (and the person asking the question), I will either say ‘writer’ or ‘nature writer.’ If probed further, I will eventually add that I’m an author. But hardly ever, if at all, will I describe myself as an essayist. And that’s a curious thing, for a couple of reasons: first, I began writing essays long before I knew there was a literary animal called nature writing and also years before I wrote my first book; second, I love essays. They are, in fact, what I love most to write.” I then confessed, “If I could afford to do so, I would spend the rest of my literary life simply writing essays.” Now, like then, I can’t subsist on the essays I write. In fact subsisting on the entirety of my work has become a challenge for this freelancer, given the way the literary/publication world has changed in combination with the fact that my writing ambitions have waned as I’ve moved deeper into my 60s. But that’s another story for another time. Given my love for essays (both writing and reading them), it’s a special delight to have a collection of my pieces published this fall by Alaska Northwest Books, an imprint of Graphic Arts Books (based in Portland, Oregon). Animal Stories: Encounters with Alaska’sWildlife includes thirty-four essays, written over two decades’ time. One of the joys of doing the book was to re-read scores of the essays I’ve written across the years and to find that a good number of them still “hold up” (at least as judged by me and the editors). To give a sense of the book’s scope and intent, I’ll here borrow from the “Author’s Note” that introduces the essays. “I first began writing regularly about wild nature in the mid-1980s, while employed as an outdoors writer at the Anchorage Times. My interest deepened, and my approach shifted, when I began life as a freelance writer in the early 1990s. [I’ll insert here that it’s something to celebrate, I suppose, surviving as a freelance journalist/creative writer for more than two decades while living in Alaska.] At the newspaper I’d primarily written articles, but as a freelancer I became a student of the essay form, which has allowed me greater latitude in the ways that I explore the nature of Alaska’s wildlife and wildlands. I have especially embraced the personal essay, which enables me to weave my own experiences, observations, perspectives, and insights, with what I learn through research plus interviews with people who represent a wide range of experiences and expertise, for instance scientists, managers, conservationists, hunters and trappers, and Alaska’s Native peoples (recognizing overlap among those groups). “Over the past two decades, I have written scores of essays about Alaska’s wildlife, which have been published in assorted newspapers, magazines, literary journals, and anthologies. Some I’ve included in my own books, either as essays or woven into a longer non-fiction narrative. “These animal stories have a wide reach, in a number of ways. Besides essays about Alaska’s best-known and most charismatic animals—for instance grizzlies and wolves, moose and Dall sheep, bald eagles and beluga whales—I introduce readers to many of our state’s largely overlooked species, from wood frogs to redpolls and shrews. Other essays describe encounters with well-known animals that people rarely meet in the wilds, for example lynx and wolverines. The stories are also geographically diverse; they stretch across the state, from the Panhandle to the Arctic, and also from Alaska’s urban center, Anchorage, to its most remote backcountry. Part of the intent is to remind people that we share the landscape with other creatures wherever we area, even where we least expect it. And that even the most easily overlooked or ignored animals lead remarkable lives.” This last point is greatly important to me, because it seems people so easily dismiss the common and/or small, overlooked animals who share the places where we live. To continue: “The essays also show, and examine, the complicated relationships we humans have with other animals, and consider different ways of knowing, and relating to, these critters. In sharing what I’ve learned in my own explorations (near and far), I intend to open up new worlds and possibilities to readers, just as my own life has been enlarged by both firsthand encounters and what I’ve been able to learn from research and interviews. The essays are intended to be thought-provoking as well as entertaining: to increase readers’ awareness and get people thinking about their own relationship with our wild neighbors, our wild relatives, and the inherent value that these animals have, irrespective of what they give to us.” Here I’ll jump to the final paragraph of this introductory section. “One final thought. Though I’ve been blessed by many memorable, even astonishing, encounters with wild animals in Alaska’s wilderness, several of my most extraordinary—and in some instances, life changing—experiences have occurred within Anchorage, sometimes without leaving my yard. Or house. Thus one of the great lessons that the animals have taught me, and which I am excited to share here, is the reminder that nature’s wondrous wild surrounds us all the time, wherever we live, if we’ll only open our senses and pay attention.” I think these final words—and the collection as a whole—are connected in a way to what Scott Russell Sanders told a group of writers this summer at a workshop following the Kachemak Bay Writers’ Conference (words and ideas wonderfully recounted by workshop participant Barbara Hood, in her July 8 49 Writers posting, “Finding the Spruce Tips.” Hood tells us that Sanders, at his stage of his 40-year career, has decided his work is “all about the earth” and contemporary humanity’s complex (and often destructive) relationship with our wild planet. Furthermore, stories play an essential role in building (or deepening) our connections to place, by creating a “storied” landscape. I absolutely agree. Perhaps another way to say this is that places become more meaningful—and I would argue, wondrous—through the stories we tell and write. One way to deepen a relationship with place is by learning more about its inhabitants, paying more attention to the animal and plants and other life forms. This is part of what I hope I accomplish with Animal Stories: deepen our connection to both the animals and the landscapes, the homelands, that we share. A transplanted New Englander, nature writer Bill Sherwonit (49 Writers featured author for September) has made Anchorage his home since 1982. He’s contributed essays, articles, and commentaries to a wide variety of publications and is the author of more than a dozen books. His newest, Animal Stories: Encounters with Alaska’s Wildlife, will be published this fall by Alaska Northwest Books. His website is www.billsherwonit.alaskawriters.com.
The back and front cover of Juneauite author Hannah Lindoff’s “Mary’s Wild Winter Feast” co-illustrated by Nobu Koch and Clarissa Rizal
Hot off the press, you may purchase this book at the Alaska-Juneau Public Market at Centennial Hall in Juneau during Thanksgiving weekend at my booth #P-15 in the main hall OR you can purchase directly from Hannah OR you can order a copy from a couple of sources below:
The Juneau School District has concluded our investigation into allegations that on or about May 30-31 of this year a group of incoming senior boys hazed/initiated a group of incoming freshmen boys by paddling them multiple times.
These events were first brought to our attention in early June. At that time the district began an initial investigation, which, due to an active police investigation and summer vacation, was put on hold. When we were informed that the police had concluded their investigation we resumed our efforts.