Alaska's inner beauty: Local author's book explores people and place

Posted: Thursday, April 21, 2011

In Alaska, politics are often intertwined with place.

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Photo By Brielle Schaeffer
Photo By Brielle Schaeffer
Dave Atcheson poses with his new book, "Hidden Alaska: Bristol Bay and Beyond."

The magnetism that draws people north can also polarize them.

Besides Alaska's picturesque beauty, that dynamic is what fascinates Dave Atcheson about the 49th state, and part of what he tried to capture in the book "Hidden Alaska: Bristol Bay and Beyond" that he wrote for National Geographic Books published Feb. 15.

"It was a little unnerving because National Geographic is pretty big time," said the Kenai Peninsula staff member, who's also a freelance writer, author, board member of the Renewable Resources Coalition and avid fisherman.

He said the book deal fell into his lap when National Geographic photographer Michael Melford approached the Renewable Resources Coalition with the idea of collaborating on a book about Bristol Bay.

Melford travelled to Iliamna in the summer of 2009 to shoot a story on the proposed Pebble Mine for the Dec. 2010 issue of the magazine.

He took 20,000 photographs, Atcheson said, and was interested in having someone write about the land that he captured on film.

Melford asked if the coalition, which is pro-resource conservation and anti-Pebble Mine, if it knew any writers that were interested.

Atcheson was interested, sent some of his writing clips and secured the gig.

"The first half of the book is about Alaska in general," Atcheson said.

With interviews with local homesteader Marge Mullen, and Alaska Troutfitters' fishing guide Paul Tornow, Atcheson sets the scene in the books first two sections, "Lay of the Land," and "Land of Extremes."

"It's a feel for Alaska, the people and politics and all that stuff," he said.

The second two sections focus on Bristol Bay, or the "Land of Salmon."

Although Atcheson is a vocal opponent of the Pebble Mine, he mostly keeps his opinions to himself, only mentioning them in the book's epilogue.

The Pebble Mine is "a very, very tiny part of the book," he said.

The book in that sense, Atcheson said, is not so much about what Alaska could lose but what the state currently has.

And one thing the Kenai has is great fishing--something that Atcheson missed out on while he was writing "Hidden Alaska" last summer.

"It was a lot of work. My friends had called and asked if I wanted to go fishing and I had to say no," he said. "I'm not going to pitch any ideas now because it didn't make for a great summer."

"Hidden Alaska: Bristol Bay and Beyond" is available for sale locally at River City Books in Soldotna, the Kenai Peninsula College book store, and the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center.

Atcheson will present a reading and slide show with photos from the book at 6:30 p.m. in the Kenai Peninsula College Commons tonight.

Brielle Schaeffer can be reached at

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