Journey to Alaska changes writer's life

Posted: Thursday, December 20, 2001

"Looking for Alaska"

By Peter Jenkins

St. Martin's Press, New York

434 pages, $25.95

Between the covers of "Looking for Alaska," author Peter Jenkins shares his impressions of the great land like a smitten lover who finds his heart captive. The best-selling author recounts his 18-month romance with Alaska, sparked while he and his family made Seward their temporary home base during 1999 to 2000, allowing Jenkins the freedom to follow the scent of Alaska's unique perfume.

And in doing so, Jenkins joins a long line of writers who have traveled to Alaska, been overwhelmed by the grandeur and challenge of the country and the people that call these northern latitudes home, and were inspired to put pen to page.

Through his eyes, the everyday lives of those he meets are funneled into a life-changing experience that sends Jenkins home a different person.

He begins by hinting at where the book will lead:

"Two weeks after we arrived, riding down the hill in Seward, Alaska, on this borrowed mountain bike made me feel like a kid again, a feeling that is getting harder and harder to capture."

By the end, he closes his experience with:

"Whenever I get in long lines or jammed traffic, I think of Alaska. When I feel that I cannot overcome, I think of her people. No one is ever the same after coming back from Alaska."

Impressions of the Kenai Peninsula are spread across the book's opening pages. He shares stories told to him by Alaska Fish and Game biologist Ted Spraker, including the rescue of a moose who tangled with a swing set. And in a series of one-thing-led-to-another events, meeting Spraker led to meeting Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Dale Bagley.

"Looking at Dale tells you nothing much about who he is or what he has done. He probably represents the real white Alaskan far more than the ones that look the part."

And then Jenkins recounts Bagley's run-in with a brown bear in graphic detail, from the solo hunt near the end of Funny River Road to the 200 staples and stitches needed to hold Bagley's head together after being mauled by a bear guarding a kill site.

The police log in Seward's newspaper becomes a lens through which Jenkins learns of the happenings in his adopted hometown. He shares entries of encounters with wildlife, both the four- and two-legged varieties, including his own citation for "making a false statement on a resident sport license."

Distracted by worries that his fishing charter was going to leave without him, a hurrying Jenkins gave his Seward address and phone number rather than his home address in Tennessee, an error for which bail was set at $200, according to the newspaper.

During his 18-month Alaska experience, Jenkins gets a taste of flying in a floatplane in Southeast when he hopped from Ketchikan to Prince of Wales Island. The first startling discovery of that adventure was having to disclose his weight, something he could never imagine being asked at airports in Los Angeles or New York. An invitation to sport fish with Sam Kito provided the opportunity for Native "leadership to get to know me -- a bit -- to determine if I could be trusted."

After a day of fishing, Jenkins joined his fishing buddies for a night out at a local watering hole. When Jenkins hears the patrons sing along to "Sweet Home Alabama," he concludes, "Some Alaskans related to Southerners. Southerners lost their ancestral homes and land to a war with 'outside aggressors'. Alaskans also lost their ancestral homes and land to 'outside aggressors.'"

He makes a similar point again about impressions of his visit to the island.

"It was as if the spirits of the Haida forefathers and those who had died too early of substance abuse or suicide or car wrecks had not left the area but lived out here. They guarded what was left of their land, their way of life, from people like me."

Repeatedly, Alaska's residency invited Jenkins into their homes and neighborhoods to share the details of their lives: Donna Blasor-Bernhardt, who owns the Winter Cabin bed and breakfast near Tok; Iditarod musher Jeff King; Barrow whaling captain Oliver Leavitt.

During Talkeetna's Winterfest celebration, Jenkins shouted out a bid during the bachelor auction in an attempt to drive the bid amounts higher. It drew the hoped-for response from the enthusiastic female crowd, but temporarily wiped the smile from the bachelor of the moment.

Much of Jenkins's Alaska experience is with his family. He, his wife, Rita, and their daughter Julianne survive winter in avalanche-bound Seward. The three of them also accept an invitation from a family who live 60 miles by snowmachine from Coldfoot. Jenkins and his daughter Rebekah glide in kayaks in the presence of glaciers and visit Cordova, where the author got a taste of what it means to live in a land- and sea-locked community. A portion of the book also is written by Rebekah, offering the additional insights of another family member.

In all, the book is a colorful, kiss-and-tell accounting of experiences hoped for by every visitor or wannabe visitor to Alaska. The stuff of travelers dreams. And the day-to-day realities of those who have stayed and made Alaska their home.

BYLINE1:McKibben Jackinsky

BYLINE2:From the Bookshelf

BYLINE1:By McKIBBEN JACKINSKY

BYLINE2:Peninsula Clarion

"Looking for Alaska"

By Peter Jenkins

St. Martin's Press, New York

434 pages, $25.95

Between the covers of "Looking for Alaska," author Peter Jenkins shares his impressions of the great land like a smitten lover who finds his heart captive. The best-selling author recounts his 18-month romance with Alaska, sparked while he and his family made Seward their temporary home base during 1999 to 2000, allowing Jenkins the freedom to follow the scent of Alaska's unique perfume.

And in doing so, Jenkins joins a long line of writers who have traveled to Alaska, been overwhelmed by the grandeur and challenge of the country and the people that call these northern latitudes home, and were inspired to put pen to page.

Through his eyes, the everyday lives of those he meets are funneled into a life-changing experience that sends Jenkins home a different person.

He begins by hinting at where the book will lead:

"Two weeks after we arrived, riding down the hill in Seward, Alaska, on this borrowed mountain bike made me feel like a kid again, a feeling that is getting harder and harder to capture."

By the end, he closes his experience with:

"Whenever I get in long lines or jammed traffic, I think of Alaska. When I feel that I cannot overcome, I think of her people. No one is ever the same after coming back from Alaska."

Impressions of the Kenai Peninsula are spread across the book's opening pages. He shares stories told to him by Alaska Fish and Game biologist Ted Spraker, including the rescue of a moose who tangled with a swing set. And in a series of one-thing-led-to-another events, meeting Spraker led to meeting Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Dale Bagley.

"Looking at Dale tells you nothing much about who he is or what he has done. He probably represents the real white Alaskan far more than the ones that look the part."

And then Jenkins recounts Bagley's run-in with a brown bear in graphic detail, from the solo hunt near the end of Funny River Road to the 200 staples and stitches needed to hold Bagley's head together after being mauled by a bear guarding a kill site.

The police log in Seward's newspaper becomes a lens through which Jenkins learns of the happenings in his adopted hometown. He shares entries of encounters with wildlife, both the four- and two-legged varieties, including his own citation for "making a false statement on a resident sport license."

Distracted by worries that his fishing charter was going to leave without him, a hurrying Jenkins gave his Seward address and phone number rather than his home address in Tennessee, an error for which bail was set at $200, according to the newspaper.

During his 18-month Alaska experience, Jenkins gets a taste of flying in a floatplane in Southeast when he hopped from Ketchikan to Prince of Wales Island. The first startling discovery of that adventure was having to disclose his weight, something he could never imagine being asked at airports in Los Angeles or New York. An invitation to sport fish with Sam Kito provided the opportunity for Native "leadership to get to know me -- a bit -- to determine if I could be trusted."

After a day of fishing, Jenkins joined his fishing buddies for a night out at a local watering hole. When Jenkins hears the patrons sing along to "Sweet Home Alabama," he concludes, "Some Alaskans related to Southerners. Southerners lost their ancestral homes and land to a war with 'outside aggressors'. Alaskans also lost their ancestral homes and land to 'outside aggressors.'"

He makes a similar point again about impressions of his visit to the island.

"It was as if the spirits of the Haida forefathers and those who had died too early of substance abuse or suicide or car wrecks had not left the area but lived out here. They guarded what was left of their land, their way of life, from people like me."

Repeatedly, Alaska's residency invited Jenkins into their homes and neighborhoods to share the details of their lives: Donna Blasor-Bernhardt, who owns the Winter Cabin bed and breakfast near Tok; Iditarod musher Jeff King; Barrow whaling captain Oliver Leavitt.

During Talkeetna's Winterfest celebration, Jenkins shouted out a bid during the bachelor auction in an attempt to drive the bid amounts higher. It drew the hoped-for response from the enthusiastic female crowd, but temporarily wiped the smile from the bachelor of the moment.

Much of Jenkins's Alaska experience is with his family. He, his wife, Rita, and their daughter Julianne survive winter in avalanche-bound Seward. The three of them also accept an invitation from a family who live 60 miles by snowmachine from Coldfoot. Jenkins and his daughter Rebekah glide in kayaks in the presence of glaciers and visit Cordova, where the author got a taste of what it means to live in a land- and sea-locked community. A portion of the book also is written by Rebekah, offering the additional insights of another family member.

In all, the book is a colorful, kiss-and-tell accounting of experiences hoped for by every visitor or wannabe visitor to Alaska. The stuff of travelers dreams. And the day-to-day realities of those who have stayed and made Alaska their home.



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