ARCTIC DAUGHTER by Jean Aspen, as remembered by Suzanne Bishop

Thanks to Suzanne Bishop of Homer for entering our most recent contest about favorite or memorable Alaska books. Her guest-post was selected as 1st runner up. I loved what she had to say about finding a less-than-perfect book at the perfect time.

Have you ever read a great book at the wrong time? You know, when the writing is beautiful, the story’s compelling, but you find you have to force yourself to pick it up and read? There’s a flip side to this – a pretty good book, but at just the right time. A book like that for me was Arctic Daughter by Jean Aspen.
Aspen’s a good writer, but it’s a fairly classic wilderness adventure story of a college-age couple creating a home off the Chandalar River in northern Alaska. They are novices and make many “green” mistakes. However, they find happiness, joy, and comfort in their wilderness time. The book was written many years after the story’s events and has a touch of nostalgia. But this is not why it was a great book to me.
So many times when a book touches my life, it has more to do with me than with the writing or even the story. I found Aspen’s book in a little convenience store in Anchor Point during my first summer in Alaska. My girlfriend and I planned to just spend a summer of adventure in Alaska and then return to Montana and figure out what we were going to do with “the rest of our lives.” As in so many plans, this didn’t quite turn out.

I met this guy, John, somewhere in those brief summer months. I was captivated by his tales of adventure and bears. It wasn’t long into our friendship/romance when he asked if I’d like to go up to the Arctic with him on his annual hunting trip. Jean Aspen’s year in the wilderness flashed in my mind as I readily agreed!

It was an adventure of a lifetime and nothing like Arctic Daughter! The landscape was flat tundra with few trees or even shrubs taller than my knees. It was colder and stormier. And breathtakingly beautiful! But, it took some time to acclimate my Montana eyes to the beauty at ankle level. It took time to appreciate the hunting and the harshness of the climate. The people I met were different too, and it took time to slow down and appreciate them as well. Many of the people I met on that first trip continue to be my friends.

I read a book about Montana during that trip that touched my life just as much as Jean Aspen’s. It’s called House of Sky by Ivan Doig and should probably be written about on a Montana blog. However, I’ll never forget reading along a river called Ahvenak and crying my eyes out because I was so deeply moved. Both Doig and I said goodbye to Montana in that book.

Fifteen years later, I still treasure my memories of that first trip to the Arctic. I still love that guy, John, with all the great tales of wilderness, bears and adventure and, now, I’m part of many of them. My experiences continue to be radically different than Jean Aspen’s and, yet, I continue to treasure that book and call it one of my favorites about Alaska. It inspired me to take a chance and go to the Arctic.
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