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Tide, Feather, Snow: A Life in Alaska
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Tide, Feather, Snow: A Life in Alaska

3.4 5
by Miranda Weiss
 

Alaska is a place where know-how is currency and a novice's mistakes can kill you. An extreme landscape in both its beauty and challenges, the state is nicknamed "The Last Frontier" with good reason: Here is a paradoxical landscape where boundaries—between community and isolation, bounty and deprivation, conservation and exploitation—are constantly

Overview

Alaska is a place where know-how is currency and a novice's mistakes can kill you. An extreme landscape in both its beauty and challenges, the state is nicknamed "The Last Frontier" with good reason: Here is a paradoxical landscape where boundaries—between community and isolation, bounty and deprivation, conservation and exploitation—are constantly in flux.

But the state has also always been a place for reinvention, a refuge as much for those desperate to escape something as for those on a quest for something else. In Tide, Feather, Snow, Miranda Weiss, a young woman who grew up landlocked in well-kept East Coast suburbs, moves with her boyfriend to Homer, Alaska, where the days are quartered by the most extreme tides in the country, where the years are marked by seasons of fish, and where locals carry around the knowledge of fish, tides, boats, and weather as ballast. At first, she struggles to make a place for herself in this unfamiliar country. But ultimately, Weiss learns the skills to survive on her own, from setting a fishing net to befriending the locals, from jarring rosehip butter to skinning a sea otter.

Weiss's keenly observed prose introduces readers to the memorable people and peculiar beauty of Alaska's vast landscape and takes us on her personal journey of adventure, physical challenge, and culture clash. In the tradition of John McPhee's Coming into the Country, this elegant and affecting memoir is nature writing at its best.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

In this deeply honest memoir, Weiss reflects on her first seasons living in coastal Alaska, serenely recording the stunning unpredictability of the place and people. Initially moving from Oregon, where she was a fifth-grade science teacher, to the "halibut capital of the world" in south-central Alaska with her boyfriend, John, a teacher and naturalist, Weiss felt "adrift and confused" by the new pattern of weather and fish, and the alien behavior of the sea. Securing teaching jobs in the village of Homer, Weiss and John embarked on an exploration of the area, becoming acquainted with the town's early history as a coal outpost, its Natives and throwback community of Old Believers (Russian Orthodox); befriending far-flung neighbors who proved a valuable support network; and trying to make themselves self-sufficient in this unforgiving landscape. They learned to dipnet in the Kenai River (the locals' favorite way to catch enormous quantities of salmon to freeze for the coming winter), lay in supplies and harvest wild foods, kayak across the treacherous Kachemak Bay in summer and ski during the long, dark winters over vast snowy vistas. However, the isolation and forced introspection eventually fractured the couple, and Weiss headed out on her own, to catalogue, in sometimes limpid prose her, romance with the largest state, in the grip of change. (May)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

In this exceptional book, Weiss, who grew up in the Baltimore suburbs and moved to Homer, AK, with her boyfriend, gives us an intimate look into the lives of Alaskans living in small coastal communities. Unlike most "life in..." memoirs, which leave the reader viewing from the outside, Weiss takes us there with her delightful prose style, giving us the feel of the people, the place, and the kind of life that draws nourishment from the land and sea. We can see the textures of the ocean, smell and taste the salt air, and feel the cold crisp snow. We are there as Weiss, the suburban newbie, struggles to fit into the community and make the hardy lifestyle her own. Alaska is a captivating land, and this book does justice to it. Highly recommended for school, public, and university libraries.
—Betty Galbraith

Krestia DeGeorge
“Humbly sends its roots down into the soil of the Kenai Peninsula. . . . [Weiss] deftly spins her quiet narratives out of the smallest details and anecdotes, and spices them with the richness of texture seldom seen in non-fiction.”
Edward Hoagland
“Tide, Feather, Snow is a lovely, feathery book indeed—a labor of love and a pleasure to read.”
Anthony Doerr
Tide, Feather, Snow is about the resplendence and subtleties of coastal Alaska, and about one woman’s attempt to be fully present in them. Weiss serves as a skilled and poetic witness to a place undergoing incessant change.”

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780061710254
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
04/28/2009
Pages:
288
Product dimensions:
5.60(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.10(d)

Read an Excerpt

Tide, Feather, Snow
A Life in Alaska

Chapter One

Setting the Net

Mean high water: n. Average height of water at high tide.

Moving to coastal Alaska meant moving to the water life, although I hadn't known it until I arrived. Nothing is separate from the sea—not the sky, not the land, not a single day, nor my mood. I wasn't used to this. I wasn't ready for it.

It was the middle of July when John dragged out a tangle of net he'd salvaged from the beach months before. In winter, wind and surf reshuffled the beach, exposing hidden treasures—rusty bicycles, boat parts. He had wrestled the gill net from the sand and now wanted to set the net in front of the house for silver salmon that ran along the shore toward streams farther up the bay. I couldn't conceive how such a thing should be done—where to set the net, how to check it, what to expect. But John had a way of finding free stuff and asking a few questions here and there—at a potluck dinner, at the gear shop, in the neighbor's yard—and then he'd know how to do it.

John's certainty intimidated me. So I washed dishes and watched him through the kitchen window as he spread the clump of net on the lawn and got to work meticulously unwinding, untying, and straightening the whole thing out. The net took a day to untangle and decipher. When it was done, the mesh stretched sixty feet across the grass and lay ten feet deep. The float line, a line of white floats across the top of the rectangular net, would hang the net from the water's surface and the weighted lead line at the bottom would sink to keep it open whensubmerged. I helped John fold up the net in the way he'd learned from a friend: He took the lead line and I took the float line and we walked from one end to the other, bunching it up along the way.

At low tide the next morning, I followed John down the edge of the bluff in front of our house, lugging the hind end of the net over my shoulder. I liked to believe my lithe, curveless body, though small, was strong and capable of bearing up to whatever I wanted to do. But I slipped under the weight of the net in muddy spots the wild raspberry had left bare. The sky was a wide open blue and the white sides of gulls glinted far out on the bay. In front of us, the retreated tide exposed a mud mirror that reflected the mountains across the water. Clam holes and the coiled castings of marine worms pocked and pimpled the reflection. We weren't the only ones who had decided to try for silver salmon. Two nets were set in front of houses farther up the bay, and with the tide out, their lines and pink buoys lay idle on the flats.

John had planned it all out. We staked one end of the net close to shore, stretched the mesh perpendicularly across the mudflats, and then anchored the other end into the mud. Then we dragged the lead line away from the float line, opening the mesh. It was as flaccid as an empty sleeve and so far from the water it looked as though it would never be submerged. But John insisted that silver salmon run through the shallows. For good luck, we tied a buxom white mermaid buoy to the net. Then there was nothing left to do but wait out the tide.

Earlier that month, we had bought fishing licenses at the grocery store and picked up a colorful newsprint booklet that explained the fishing regulations for Southcentral Alaska. The sixty-page publication included colorful drawings of rockfish and salmon, maps of river mouths and bays, instructions on how to efficiently kill your catch, and detailed directions on where and how to fish. John and I had moved to Alaska not quite a year earlier and had learned that with fishing, as with everything else, there were clear distinctions between locals and outsiders: Only residents could use nets to catch fish for themselves, while tourists were limited to hook and line.

New to the town of Homer and eager to fit in and stake out our own territory, we quickly realized that Kachemak Bay, on which we now lived, was already a crowded place. Even with its convoluted coastline and dozen islands, every bit of nature's real estate had been claimed. All five species of Pacific salmon populated the bay, fattening off its rich waters and swarming local streams. Humpbacks, orcas, and fin whales regularly plowed the water, sending the sound of their exhalations over the surface of the bay. Forests of ribbonlike kelp grew thickly from the seafloor, feeding urchin and harboring sea otters, who napped while wrapped in the green fronds. Long strands of kelp washed ashore and quickly became whips and jump ropes for children playing on the beach, or were sliced and pickled in jars. When the bay withdrew at low tide in the spring, shorebirds up from California and Mexico on their way to nesting grounds farther north crammed the flats, needling their bills into the mud for pink, thumbnail-sized macoma clams. Above, marsh hawks patrolled for the stragglers and the weak. Hundreds of snow geese owned the head of the bay each spring, and the rocky shore on the south side of the bay, which was dimpled and nicked endlessly, was as populated and compartmentalized as the oldest city block. Sea lions claimed Sixty Foot Rock as their haul-out spot and occasionally lorded over the harbor, eyeing passersby with dogs. In summer, a clump of nearly naked rocks became a boisterous colony of nesting gulls, kittiwakes, puffins, murres, and cormorants. The chatter clattered loudly above the sound of the surf, and the ammonia smell of guano could burn your nose from more than a quarter mile away.

Tide, Feather, Snow
A Life in Alaska
. Copyright © by Miranda Weiss. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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What People are Saying About This

Edward Hoagland
“Tide, Feather, Snow is a lovely, feathery book indeed—a labor of love and a pleasure to read.”
Krestia DeGeorge
“Humbly sends its roots down into the soil of the Kenai Peninsula. . . . [Weiss] deftly spins her quiet narratives out of the smallest details and anecdotes, and spices them with the richness of texture seldom seen in non-fiction.”
Anthony Doerr
Tide, Feather, Snow is about the resplendence and subtleties of coastal Alaska, and about one woman’s attempt to be fully present in them. Weiss serves as a skilled and poetic witness to a place undergoing incessant change.”

Meet the Author

Miranda Weiss received her MFA from Columbia University. Raised in Maryland, she now lives in Homer, Alaska.

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Tide, Feather, Snow 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
harstan More than 1 year ago
This is an engaging memoir of Miranda Weiss's first year living in Alaska after residing in Oregon where she taught straight fifth-grade science. She describes vividly the adjustment she and her boyfriend John made when they accepted teaching positions in the small village Homer. They travel all over the area leaning its history with landmarks. However, the deepest most interesting part of this excellent year in the life of is the profound look at how the Old Believers live while the pair struggles to become more like the locals; self sufficient. For instance they catch salmon in the Kenai River to freeze for the long winter, etc. However, the long periods with just one another led to deep musing by the pair and the end of their relationship; though that segue is the weakest piece due to being overly dramatic. This a terrific insightful look at the cost to a "Forty Eighter" trying to become Alaska-acclimatized in the final American frontier.-------------------- Harriet Klausner
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Aradanryl More than 1 year ago
This book is full of detail about the author's sights, sounds and feelings during the first years after she moved to Homer, Alaska.