Enter your comments here about Miranda Weiss’s TIDE, FEATHER, SNOW: A Life in Alaska. Note that to comment, you have the option (even if you don’t have a Google account) of just entering your name as the third ‘identity option’ (any name you wish to use; pseudonyms are acceptable). If you have trouble, you may contact me at lax@alaska.net. Comments are encouraged through Sunday evening.

8 thoughts on “Discussion: TIDE, FEATHER, SNOW”

  1. Andromeda Romano-Lax

    Tide, Feather, Snow opened at a leisurely pace, warming and deepening with an accumulation of authentic details and emotions to describe a woman’s search for a balanced, somewhat ‘back-to-the-land’ life in Homer, Alaska. I read more fiction than nature-based nonfiction, so I might have been itching in the beginning for more storyline, the promise of a direction beyond introspection and painterly language (and the language is detailed, polished, and lyrical).

    By mid-book, when the author's relationship with her partner John unravels, a more conventional storyline did take shape, in a way that felt true and essential to what Weiss was exploring – how we connect to a place. At times, the author seemed wide-eyed, but that fits – this is a story about a young woman experiencing a quest for independence and identity in a place that just happens to be challenging, wild, and remote.

    I enjoyed sharing in the author’s questions, including (in my interpretation): How do we come to know a place and make ourselves feel competent and part of that place? But also: How do we change Alaska by being here? (She writes in satisfying detail about the accumulation of stuff/junk, all across our import-dependent state).

    As someone who has also tried over many years to learn the nature of Alaska, I enjoyed all of Weiss’s mixed feelings on this subject, from intense appreciation to self-doubt.

    I have more to say, including sharing some of my favorite parts (there were many) but I want to hear from others!

  2. Kelly Thompson

    I read Tide, Feather, Snow in one evening after purchasing it at the Kachemak Bay Writer's Conference. Not because it was a quick read, but because I couldn't put it down.

    As a Homer area resisdent and a new Alaskan (I moved here five years ago next month) Weiss's book immediately engaged me. I could not stop reading.

    I "got" the gist of the story right away, at least the gist of it to my mind, and that was what kept me reading. I wanted to know how the narrator would or would not find a footing, a place in the landscape she accurately and lyrically describes. I wanted to know how she would navigate her way through, not only forging an identity and claiming a place of her own in a place like coastal Alaska, but what she might learn about herself as a result of offering herself to her own and its whims? What would be the result of her choice to move to a place where geography imposes its own laws, where the watered land will change you, where you will need to find your sea-legs?

    The book begins:

    "Moving to coastal Alaska meant moving to the water life, although I hadn't known it until I arrived."

    I hadn't known this upon arrival here either, although one might think it obvious, in hindsight at least. I also was not accustomed to small town life, which the narrator says, "startled me".

    She felt "…adrift and confused". Like me, the author grew up in the suburbs in a landlocked place. Coming here, for whatever reason, tends to throw one back on oneself in ways unexpected.

    Weiss captures this newness, this feeling of being set adrift on the sea of an unfamiliar place, moorings cut.

    Early on in the story the author senses that knowledge of the land, the sea, the weather and the tides are commodity here. "Know how… was how people navigated this place" she writes and, even more importantly, she says, "how they possessed it".

    The author sets out to gain that know-how for herself, its value something I recognized as a newbie and that fascinated me as a reader.
    Know-how means a lot, but is it everything? The book doesn't offer easy answers. Just one woman's hard-won sense of self and mastery over her own circumstances.

    The chapters are each preceded by a definition like shoal, forecastle, running line, confused sea, dead reckoning and, finally, luminous sea.

    A tender, we learn, is "A vessel attendant on other vessels, especially one that ferries supplies between ship and shore."

    Tide, Feather, Snow makes for a good tender. As I read, I felt that I was being thrown a lifeline. This is an author who is honest and she tells an honest story.

    As another Homerite who recommended the book to me said, "She nailed it."

    I agree. I'll be interested to hear what others think and look forward to more discussion.

  3. Andromeda Romano-Lax

    Thanks for the thoughtful comments, Kelly — allowing me to add a few more of my own! If I took just a little longer than you to fall under the sway of this book, it was possibly because some themes felt uncomfortably true to what I had experienced coming to Alaska – the competitive drive to become more hardy and self-sufficient, the desperation to craft a ‘unique’ or authentic life.

    I remember wishing, on occasion, that a decade would hurry up and pass just so that I could stop feeling like such a newcomer in a state where length of residency confers both real experience and also bragging rights. Now I’m middle-aged enough to banish any such thoughts about speeding-up time.

    I wonder if others want to add theit two cents here: about this "how many years you have been here" facet of (non-native) Alaska life; when you felt comfortable here; how much physical skills or outdoor competence mattered to your new identity (I was sure I would build my own house someday, but never did); whether there is a competition between geographical areas for what "real Alaska" is or what a real Alaskan should do to earn that identity. (I'm trying my best to inspire some debate here.)

    I know when I came here, I didn't think Anchorage really counted, and I spent one winter in Homer and have since traveled as much as I can in Southeast Alaska, looking for the place that feels right — only to return to Anchorage and learn to love it for its people, opportunities, central location, and wild places too (I love the Chugach though I miss a truly navigable seacoast).

    My main ways of connecting have been through getting to know plants, animals; appreciating the seasons including the ever-changing light; and especially, harvesting food, including salmon, berries, clams. If I regret anything, it is that I have come to rely on so many modern conveniences and "stuff" and comfort that "my Alaska" is now a little too similar to many places — but never identical. I also regret that I've become less ambitious, in terms of learning new skills or visiting new places.

    Does this sound a lot like Miranda Weiss's book? I think so — which is simply to repeat that I think she captured some common themes, and did so in a way that didn't sound preachy or false or overly self-congratulatory (though we Alaskans often fall into a state of — as John Haines once put it — "perpetual self-congratulation).

  4. Andromeda Romano-Lax

    Some of the many spot-on descriptions from the book:

    "On clear, cold mornings, crystals blossomed on the surface the the snow, catching the sun like peach fuzz on new skin. … Icicles dropped glistening taproots from the edges of roofs…"

    (Later, in spring as yards are melting…)
    "A winter's worth of flotsam surfaced: a dropped glove, a garden spade forgotten in the yard, the root ball of a dead houseplant tossed out the front door months before. Over a weekend, the picnic table buoyed up in the front yard, afloat on a draining sea. Spruce trees flung needles that looked like dark fingernail clippings across the surface of the snow… "

  5. I read Miranda's memoir while traveling down the Inside Passage, back and forth with John Muir – an interesting juxtaposition. I appreciate your comments, Kelly, because as I read I kept wondering how much different my experience would be if I were newer to Alaska…wishing, almost, I could recapture some of that innocence when everything seemed new and different.

  6. “outsider – n. 1. a nonmember of a certain group or profession. 2. a horse or person thought to have no chance in a race or competition for which he has been entered.” (Oxford American Dictionary, 1980 edition)

    As a 19-year Colorado resident by way of Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Delaware and Wales, I have always considered myself an outsider. Consequently, I view memoirs as temporary homes. They describe places and experiences I wonder about and want to explore. I decided to read Tide, Feather, Snow last spring in preparation for my June visit to Homer. After reading page one of Miranda Weiss’s book, I eagerly followed the author into the world of Homer residents and how newcomers or ‘outsiders’ adapt to this unique, challenging environment. Her concrete, sensuous descriptions of a town dictated by the sea’s dynamic omnipresence captured my imagination and I often studied maps to locate where she kayaked, fished and skied.

    I understand how difficult it is to move to a place where not only do I not know the people, but I don’t even know the names of weeds, flowers and trees that grow outside my window. Even the color palette of the sky is different. The challenge for me is to decide how I can accept (or reject) the novelty. Miranda Weiss clearly embraces the vicissitudes of living on the Kenai Peninsula.

    Like a hermit crab that exchanges its shell as it matures and grows, an outsider, often against the odds, creates a nurturing, secure home in a manner of his/her own choosing.

  7. I love your description, Wendy, of memoir as temporary home. So much depends on how we come to a place, who we are at the time, and what we're seeking (much of which is mostly unknown to us, I think), which is of course the thrust of the book. "A domain once claimed can be lost," Weiss writes – as in all good memoirs, seeded thoughts like this kept me reading. (My new favorite quote from John Muir: "After my twelve-mile hike, I ate a cracker." Our sense of self and place is hugely reflective of our times.)

  8. Andromeda Romano-Lax

    I'm back from an all-day hike in time to find new comments — thanks for joining us, Wendy and Deb! I mention the hike only because I find that nonfiction memoirs of this kind often do nudge me back into spending more time outdoors and re-engaging with favorite places. Weiss's book did this for me, as did Bill Sherwonit's "Living with Wildness," another book of quiet adventure & careful language that encourages the reader to slow down and pay attention. (I need those reminders often.)

    Officially, the online book club is closings it virtual doors –but unofficially, I really don't mind if people continue to leave comments throughout the week!

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