Arctic Daughter: A Wilderness Journey

Arctic Daughter: A Wilderness Journey

by Jean Aspen


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781941821169
Publisher: Graphic Arts Center Publishing Company
Publication date: 03/15/2015
Pages: 240
Sales rank: 813,431
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

Jean Aspen holds baccalaureate degrees in biology and nursing. Her classic books and the documentary she and her husband produced form a lifetime tapestry centered on wilderness. They live in Alaska and continue to spend much of each year afoot in nature. See more at and their ARCTIC SON Facebook page.

Read an Excerpt

Finding the old gold town put us at last on the map, and we carefully marked each day’s travel with little penciled lines. It was encouraging to see the daily change in the landscape that now marked our upstream progress. The river no longer rambled freely, but was often bounded on one side or the other by a two-hundred-foot cutbank, confining it to a broad glacial cut where it swung from side to side as if seeking escape.
I tried to imagine what the land had looked like ten thousand years ago when a massive ice field capped the Brooks Range and a river of ice had carved this valley. A people very much like ourselves had hunted moose and bear in the Yukon flats, and fished the rivers washing out of the glaciers. In the fall, they picked cranberries and blueberries with their children, and in the spring they saw the ice go out and watched the birds return. They nursed their babies and cared for their old people and told stories around the night fires.
One day the river swung abruptly, butting into the bare bones of a mountain mass. For some time it had paralleled the range as if undecided, then turned resolutely northward, wedging open a wide valley into its secret heart. Soon we were leaving our familiar gray crags behind for another set of landmarks.
As the river began its climb in earnest, we developed a different method for surmounting rapids. These were now strewn with large boulders, “boat eaters” we called them, interspersed with deep holes. Water gushed over slippery rocks the size of basketballs and crumbling bluffs often dropped steeply into the river at a bend, affording no beach. In the past, we had grabbed the bow and muscled the canoe up the watery stairs together. Now one of us braced against a boulder, holding the craft in the turbulence of its wake, while the other worked the rope upstream. Finding secure footing, the one with the rope would haul the canoe (and the person guiding it) hand-over-hand up the racing chute. Already behind us lay nearly a thousand feet of elevation.
We were approaching another fork in the river when we pitched camp on a sandy, white beach late one afternoon. It was a clear, still day and the low-hanging sun gave the country that peculiar golden quality that outlines every detail in color. A few yards upstream a sandspit protruded into the current in graduating shades of blue, sheltering the canoe from the main stream.
There were few mosquitoes on the bar. Their numbers naturally diminish by midsummer. We stripped off our clothes and hung them on small willow bushes to dry. A slight breeze tickled the naked hairs on my back and legs as I worked, but did nothing to deter several bloodsucking flies. They were as long as a finger joint with iridescent, rainbow eyes and sharp, triangular mouths.
I staked down the tent floor as Net-Chet circled my legs, whining. She was never happy until home was established. Pushing in the last peg, I tightened the nylon guy lines. Phil had plucked a small seagull and was heating water to cook it when I plopped down in the warm sand by the fire. A large spider danced away, lugging her egg sack.
“We need to refill Wonderbox,” I said.
“Again?” Phil was squatting near the blaze, positioning the teapot.
“Well, we’re out of pancake mix, oatmeal, sugar, and powdered eggs.”
He looked helplessly at me. “We’ve eaten a third of our supplies.”
“I know, but we have to eat something. And so does Net-Chet, and she eats almost as much as we do. If there were more small game or fish . . .” I trailed off. We both knew the problem. In the far north small animal populations are cyclic. We had seen only four arctic hares all summer and no spruce grouse. Our attempts to fish on the main river had been fruitless. We now ate the tiny tree squirrels.
“Well, we may be hunting big game before too long,” he stated.
“I haven’t seen any of that either,” I said. We stared at one another in silence.

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Arctic Daughter: A Wilderness Journey 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
awsexton on LibraryThing 10 months ago
In 1972, Jean Aspen and her boydriend left the lower 48 to spend a year in the Alaskan wilderness. They built a cabin, lived off the land, and ended up staying for four years. Because this book was written many years after their adventure, there is a critical distance that actually adds to the story and makes you think about the choices you make--or don't. I highly recommend this book.