Douglass Bourne: Claiming a Place

I was raised on land that had
been in the family for some time. The land changed yearly from never-ending
fields of corn to fields of soybeans. The squeals of hogs were heard more often
than traffic. Life passed by at the pace of a John Deere. Garrison Keillor’s
tales from Lake Wobegon remind me of that time. We were a methodical and
deliberate people, and we loved to tell stories.

Rain or corn or sun often
served as the main characters to the stories we would tell, but people weren’t
left out of them entirely. We all did such silly things from time to time. We
certainly were never too proud to share our mishaps with others. We admitted
our mistakes. In my own family, the way I saw it, there were often problems
with the stories being told, beginning with the fact that my older brother got
to tell them while I had to stand there with my hands in my pockets. Many days
were ruined because my mouth remained shut for far too long, yet my family
would probably argue my mouth wasn’t ever shut long enough. Sometimes deciding
who got to tell a story would escalate to arguments, occasionally to bruises.
Maybe most households contain
brotherly events for story rights. Maybe that is all part of normal life in
America. I haven’t reached a point in my own life to see a household from the
adult angle, but since becoming an adult, I do see people fighting to tell
stories. The recent mauling of Richard White by a grizzly bear in Denali makes
a pretty good example of my point.
Writers about this event, as
tragic as it was, have an interesting fact to lean on—No previous records of a
bear attack death in the park. Since this is the first death each writer loves
sharing his or her stance on the attack occurred. You can read the author’s
angle like headlines: Bear-anoia, Machismo and Bear Terror, and Tourist
Inexperience. Essentially, there are dozens of themes writers are trying to use
to write the Truth of Bear Attack Denali 2012. Allow me to offer more examples from
the extremes: Peta People Don’t Respect Wild Animals; Yosemite Sam Would Carry
More Guns If He Relocated And Became Denali Sam; If You Walk In The Woods Alone
You Deserve A Bear Attack; or to the other extreme: Herrero Bear Science Leads
To Reduced Encounters, and an eco-psychology approach—Now That A Death Has
Occurred The Perceived Danger Increases Therefore More Adrenalin Shall Be
Released During A Denali Backcountry Experience.
A person could spend a day writing
new themes to describe Denali, bears, and White’s death, but none of the
themes, especially the stuff in the media, describes the event in a Truth that
fits the Denali I know. I came to Alaska because of that park. I worked there
for nearly a decade. I feel I know the place pretty well.
As far as I’m concerned,
White’s death is unfortunate and tragic. I also think White was an unlucky person.
According to press releases, it sounds like White was too close to the bear,
but how many tourists have been closer to bears? Guess how many have behaved
even more foolishly around bears?
Hundreds of tourist could be Richard
Many of my friends could be
Richard White. I could be Richard White.
Ever fly fish separated from a
bear by a thick alder bush? Ever tried to grab a bear by the back of the neck
because it was dark and you thought a sled dog had gotten loose and was
feasting in the feed bin? Ever charged a couple sub-adults because they were
invading your fishing hole? Ever forgot to be noisy just below a ridge? Ever
tried to get home on a late walk without a flashlight? If we were all punished
by bear death every time we did something foolish, the population of this state
would be cut in half. White made mistakes, and it is unfortunate White paid the
ultimate price for it.
In 2005 a bus rider told a
friend of mine, “I want to hug a grizzly cub” and then later became a missing
person—one of many missing persons in Denali—not counted as death by bear. Death
by bear in Denali is more complicated than the media knows. Telling the whole
story now, getting to what I see as the Truth about Bear Attack Denali 2012 is
a much longer essay than I have time for here and is actually outside the
purpose of this essay.
The purpose of this essay is to
show that each of us has something to say about the places we inhabit. When we
write about a place the physical details are important, sometimes those details
can become a character, but most importantly, place writing encompasses so much
more: the values, the attitudes, the experiences, the desires, and the two that
I think are most important: the love and passion of a place. It feels good to
know a stream or a sidewalk, a mountain or a coffee shop. It feels even better
to share it with others.
After a survey of Bear Attack
Denali 2012 literature would a reader judge some articles being right? And
others wrong? Readers might have criticisms. There might be questions about
authenticity or sincerity. Some readers might dislike the persona on the page,
yet whether it is fiction, poetry, or creative nonfiction readers are trying to
make sense of the world we live in. It’s our jobs as writers to offer another
point of view.
Organization is a recent skill I
developed since leaving the Bohemian seasonal-employee lifestyle. Somewhere
along the line, I began collecting quotes, but I don’t have records for where I
found most of them. Here’s a Joan Didion quote from an unknown source, “A place
belongs forever to whoever claims it hardest, remembers it most obsessively,
wrenches it from itself, shapes it, renders it, loves it so radically that he
remakes it in his own image.” My older brother had the ability to claim it
harder than I; however, now that I’m an adult I’ve found much healthier ways to
claim place.
Douglass Bourne worked as a tour guide in Denali
for nearly a decade. He earned an MA from Western Illinois
University, followed by an MFA from University of North
Carolina—Wilmington, where he served as Nonfiction Editor of
Ecotone: Reimagining Place. Douglass teaches in the English Department at UAA and is faculty advisor to the undergraduate
creative writing magazine, Understory. His screenplay won a Sir Edmund Hillary Award at the 2011 Mountain
Film Festival, and his poetry and prose have appeared in a wide variety of literary journals. This fall, Douglass will be teaching a course in Palmer for 49 Writers called “Writing Your Alaska.”

1 thought on “Douglass Bourne: Claiming a Place”

  1. I'm frightened by your examples of stupid people. But you're absolutely right, it could have been anyone who was the first. It just happens to be this idiot. Oops. Gave away my point of view.

    When it comes to making it your place, you're in a great position to do that with Denali. Never mind assorted Muries, your experience driving the bus puts you in a strategic position.

    You're so much nicer than I am–I don't believe anyone can write a good essay about any place. But some people can. In this case, you.

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