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Coldman Cometh: A Family's Adventure in the Alaska Bush

Overview

Bob Durr's first book about his adventures in Alaska was published in 1999 (Down in Bristol Bay: High Tides, Hangovers, and Harrowing Experiences on Alaska's Last Frontier). In a sense, that book was prelude to this, because while it touched upon his reasons for undertaking the risky business of "proving up" as a commercial salmon fisherman, it didn't delve deeply into the underlying reasons why he wanted, ultimately, to leave the civilized world altogether.

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Overview

Bob Durr's first book about his adventures in Alaska was published in 1999 (Down in Bristol Bay: High Tides, Hangovers, and Harrowing Experiences on Alaska's Last Frontier). In a sense, that book was prelude to this, because while it touched upon his reasons for undertaking the risky business of "proving up" as a commercial salmon fisherman, it didn't delve deeply into the underlying reasons why he wanted, ultimately, to leave the civilized world altogether.

The Coldman Cometh tells the whole story—the "family saga"—of how and why Bob, who was a tenured full professor of English at Syracuse University, resigned in 1968 from his comfortable position and with his wife and four kids journeyed north into the Alaska bush. It's a tale of adventure, of perils, hardships, trials, and triumphs involving close encounters with bears, charging moose, stormy waters, and—probably most dangerous of all—the severe subzero temperatures the Durrs came to call the "Coldman," he of the deadly embrace. The story of those tough, thrilling early years of settling in is told in vivid detail and living color, and with a good deal of humor as well.

"What is life for?" Bob asks. "To be safe and a little fat and own nice things? What about the Great Mystery, and what about the wolves?"

The Coldman Cometh is not only a memoir of an adventurous quest but an in-depth report of a radical experiment in alternative living. It's a beautiful—and harrowing—account of dropping out of the mainstream: of the smell of pine pitch and roar of a bull moose and the "whys" of the fabulous journey. Ultimately, it's a commentary on society that can only be given by a writer who has so nearly left it.

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Editorial Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
Enthusiastic memoir of a man and his family living on their own terms in wild patches of Alaska. In a prequel (Down in Bristol Bay, 1999), Durr recounted his experiences as a commercial fisherman on Alaska's not-always-kind waters back in the early '60s, when he was a tenured professor of English at Syracuse University with a serious, inchoate yearning for a more natural and elemental life. He got it, and he got even more when he decided to move his family to Alaska to escape the psychobabble and commercialism of the Lower 48. "What price Convenience? (In America, Convenience is always capitalized, like God.) What does it profit a man to gain a shower and lose a wilderness?" he asks. Point made, Durr doesn't revert to it too often-only when he is swelling with the fullness of his new homeplace and has to shake his head ruefully over what has been forsaken. His adopted turf presents plenty of challenges, from getting meat for the table to keeping warm at 50-below. Some predicaments require bush-country ingenuity (or death), but others are more mundane, such as scaring up enough capital to pay for provisions he can't obtain any other way or reconciling himself to the use of a chainsaw and a snowmobile. These conflicts are communicated in a relaxed, deliberate voice that feels swept of stress, easy of mind: Durr is where he wants to be, doing what he wants as well as what he thinks is right (without being righteous). He recounts finding a cove full of Japanese glass buoys washed onto the beach, the building of a compound for his family, the night silence of a still cabin when you rise to feed the fire. He recalls the sauna that got out of control and burned down his house, then describes therebuilding; he's not going anywhere. As unadorned as the life described, aboriginal and rejoicing. (Photos)Agency: Dystel & Goderich Literary Management
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312311797
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 7/1/2004
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 320
  • Product dimensions: 5.70 (w) x 8.60 (h) x 1.14 (d)

Meet the Author

Bob Durr was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, and earned a B.A. cum laude with Honors in English from Hofstra College, an M.A. from the University of Connecticut on a teaching fellowship, and a Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University, where he was awarded the prestigious Gustav Bissing Scholarship. He still lives on the little lake ten miles by trail north of the town of Talkeetna, Alaska.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments xi
Introduction 1
1. Wilderness 101: Lake Nerka (August 1964-May 1965) 9
2. Picnic at the Walrus Islands (August 1965) 67
3. We're Bound for the Wild Country (September 1968) 87
4. Lake Iliamna (September 1968-August 1969) 104
5. Chinitna Bay (August 1969-May 1970) 155
6. The Susitna Valley: Open to Entry (May 1970) 178
7. That First Winter: The Coldman Cometh (1970-1971) 201
8. Hippies, Old-Timers, and Redneck Raiders 220
9. Expeditions 247
10. Risky Business: Chain Saws and Snowmobiles 264
11. The Fire (September 1973) 278
12. Cabin Raising on the Last Frontier 285
Epilogue 306
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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 9, 2005

    Marginal

    The first half of the book was very interesting. I enjoyed reading about how the Durr family came to live in Alaska, and the details of their struggles, triumphs, and losses. We meet colorful characters, such as Gene Pope, who teach the Durrs the ways of frontier life. However, about halfway through the book took a turn for the worse. It went from a testimonial of wholesome country living to a comedy of errors, all of which were caused by psychadelic drugs and/or drunken misjudgement, which the author readily shares. The latter tarnished the memory of the first half.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 10, 2005

    Cold Fish

    Is the memoir of Dr. Robert 'Jungle Bob' Durr who I ran into in 1976 at Chase Alaska on a homesteading mission for a neighboring landowner, or lease holder from the 1968 open to entry land program. I was too late for that myself, but Durr, already roaming the country since 1963 was well-positioned to acquire this land at Back Lake. I never saw his lake as the Durrs were snobbish to anyone who dared venture into their territory and we, just like #1 son Steve had it turns out, inhabited the cabin near the tracks at the invitation of Rick La Francis when we weren't living at the greenhouse on Nita Kaufman's property. It's a strange place. Very cliquish. My book 'Alaska Tales' has more of this and the lead chapter is online, but Durr rambles here; prone to literary cliches and superficial skimming of the difficulties faced in building his place and even more important, acquiring the money to stay there and buy the new Arctic Cats I saw him driving during my brief winter stay in Chase. 'I don't know where the money came from,' he writes concerning his first chainsaw. Really? I sure would, and do vividly. Of course in those days most including myself were stoners, but still, what this book lacks is the day to day struggle to get supplies and pay for them. Does he intend to just hang out on a biologically dead lake(the one detail I enjoyed hearing: no feeder streams due to an earthquake) until the end? What about the last thirty years? The New York literary world was just waiting with open arms because of his former literary professorship at Syracuse? Did he ever use his Ph.D to get work locally teaching or whatnot? And how do sons Stevie and Jon, two scruffy marginal local musicians at the time make it there? The other people I met grew dope and sold it. I may not agree with that per se, but at least I get the idea of how they buy snowmachines and Banjos. Frankly, I don't know what the hell the Durrs do and neither will anyone else who reads this book from the looks of what I can see in the text.

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