The Last Settlers

Jennifer Brice, Author, Charles Mason, Photographer
Jennifer Brice, Author, Charles Mason, Photographer Duquesne University Press $24.95 (0p) ISBN 978-0-8207-0290-2
Reviewed on: 06/29/1998
Release date: 07/01/1998
Paperback - 150 pages - 978-0-8207-0291-9
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""Energetic, individualistic, libertarian, wildly optimistic: these are the qualities instilled by the frontier."" And these are the qualities that continue to draw would-be pioneers to the wilds of Alaska. In her first collection of essays, Alaska native Brice explores how the original appeal of wilderness for two families was more a concept than a geography. In the mid- 1980s Jill and Dennis Hannan settled near Deadfish Lake, Bob and Helen Spears ""in the rough-and-tumble community of Slana."" Although the Hannans ventured to the wild country with elevated values of spiritual renewal and connection with nature, they adjusted to the deeply practical needs of living 100 miles from the nearest public road--needs like killing a charging 1500-lb. bull moose at 30 yards. The Spears, who evoke ""images of the Great Depression or Appalachia,"" were motivated more by the promise of their own land--if possible with satellite TV. But they've both managed better than most; 80% of homesteaders of the 1980s lost their land by badly miscalculating the distance between their dreams and their abilities. One such settler carried in an electric chain saw with a 300-foot extension cord; another planned to farm alligators. Unlike other would-be pioneers who ""cut their wisdom teeth on Walden,"" Brice believes the Hannans succeeded because they learned that wilderness itself ""lacks the power to transform,"" and that ""among its lessons is one about the futility of making a fresh start in the wilderness when you can never leave your true self behind."" Brice's text offers a compelling and sobering analysis of the Last Frontier psyche. 22 b&w photos. (Aug.) FYI: This is the latest in Duquesne's Emerging Writers in Creative Nonfiction series.
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