Birch Tree Road: An Alaskan Fable

Birch Tree Road: An Alaskan Fable

by Keldon Irwin


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This real-life inspired, yet fictional, young adult and adult fable focuses on a young Inyupiaq (Northern Native Alaskan) who was born into a troubled home when the U.S. was just beginning its involvement with her rural arctic village.
The text, interwoven with Emily Dickinson inspired poetry, is comprised of vivid descriptions of Alaskan tundra, intense and whimsical dialogue between varied dynamic characters, and action-filled, intelligent, and suspenseful narrative as Samantha ventures into endless Alaska.
One day, Sam wakes up after one of her father's drunken evenings and leaves her arctic village in the middle of winter with nothing but the essentials to survive.
Mid-walk, she encounters a polar bear and its cub. With her home blocked by these territorial gargantuas, she is tempted to take an adventure into the -20 - -40 degree weather.
With her questionable choice, she ends up having to fend off off wildlife, the elements, and even polar bear.
A mere 80 miles from the Arctic Ocean in the Alaskan wilderness, Sam begins to redefine her perspective on the lifelong stories she has heard from elders, her relationship with her seized sister, supportive best friend, goofy uncle, drunk father, and troubled mother. She even begins to change her perspective on interracial relations.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781491844922
Publisher: AuthorHouse
Publication date: 12/28/2013
Pages: 108
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.26(d)

Read an Excerpt

Birch Tree Road

An Alaskan Fable

By Keldon Irwin

AuthorHouse LLC

Copyright © 2014 Keldon Irwin
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4918-4492-2


"In the city of snow,
Beyond Birch Tree Road;
Are promises of better land.

Where the grass wants to grow,
And you reap what you sow;
There, you will find a better man."

Martha's voice rings throughout Samantha's room as, for just a moment, the snowstorm stands still. It is muted, like the solemn silence of Bowed Lake in the all too sparing Summer's breeze. Sam is half asleep as her mother exudes her last note, barely squeaking out the finish to the mantra of Sam's early life.

There is so much on Martha's mind, of the day, of the night, and of the last four years. But she has no choice but to be strong, just as she always has been.

Martha softly sways her Sammy's disheveled hair away from her eyes.

Sam's eyes snap shut.

Martha releases, "Go to sleep, Qitu (baby.)"

Samantha lets out an obviously-fake, exacerbated snore.

"The storm will have passed by morning," Martha says and pauses for a thank you, a tear driven sniffle, or any affirmation that her daughter hears her. She receives nothing.

"You can sleep through it into the late morning if you wish. Piqpaksiruk (love,)" Martha affirms as she slips away into the same darkness in which they have dwelled in for months.

Samantha succumbs to dreams of an ethereal rolling field with ineffable flowers in varied assortments of size, color, shape, and intensity. Perfection is the limit of one's imagination for something they have never witnessed.

Weaving through the waters of the lulling hills, much like Sam's mother's thread weaved her new blanket, is a bubbling stream of silver and king salmon creating fire pit round ripples of water as they leap for hoops that are not there.

Behind these are the pink salmon, the pinks, swarming in multitudes that effortlessly triple the run of two summers before. More and more hurdle in. The draw of nature's most unexplainable cycle pulls Sam to the water. The fish continue to accumulate.

They threaten to overflow. They now fester.

This run that would have beckoned a feast for her village a moment ago has reneged into a decaying and lively graveyard of decrepit and rejected salmon. The glorious King Salmon deconstructed into a decadent, vulgar chum. Their color begins to fade, and with it, their flavor.

    Insipid. Pallid.
    By nature's laws, invalid.

    Their skin begins to fray,
    and their teeth fade to be as yellow
    as the flowers in the field.

    As the ground begins to tremble,
    an earthquake resembles;
    and her knees begin to shake.

    As she falls to all fours,
    embracing the floor;
    she hangs her head in a daze.

    She peers through her hair,
    and in the water, expects the air;
    but only finds gray dismay.

    The ground begins to freeze.
    Though she makes no final pleas;
    her soul is lost, as is the day.

She awakens to the sight of her rotting wood ceiling without sound and without movement; and she doesn't have the intention to change either. She scans its surface for a crack or a line that she hasn't yet seen, but she knows that ceiling as she knows the three streets that compose her town. They have already been surveyed.

She stares at this plank more mornings than not, and only on these kinds of mornings.

After what seems like and what very well could have been hours, her stupor is stricken by the often inefficient remedy of time.

She has to get out. She cannot stand to see anyone or say anything. Her eyes can't clear it and her throat won't strain it. She has to leave her home.

She sheds her otter blanket to find she is wearing yesterday's clothes.

"Oh well," she scoffs dismally.

After half hopping and half falling out of bed, she creeps across her cheap linoleum floor to her doorway that is short a door and peers into what her mom calls the family room.

It is entirely devoid of life.

Empty. Inhabited only by upholstery with stories.

Sammy slides through this destitute shell and confronts the front door's handle, no doubt the only clean thing in the home. She turns it clockwise and pulls. She manages an inch or so and hears snow toppling on the other side. She tries once more. Useless. Snowed in.

She passes her mother's sewing station, encompassing all sorts of scraps and furs and goods, to reach her mother's door. She sneaks a look through the slightly ajar doorway and spots the matriarch of the home lying on her back, asleep and alone.

Panting and thoughtlessly thudding back to her room, she sits on her bed. Five more minutes of blank morning staring pass and she turns to her right side. All homes in her village have a crawl size secondary exit in case of a fire. Her mother forbade that she use it, a prohibition of the inevitable cold, mostly; but rules haven't seemed to apply lately.

She lifts the hardened steel plate from its horizontal grooved tray and places it to her side. She sits in apprehension as snow fills a small square of her room.

"Another cold winter it is," she hears herself say bitingly. After grabbing her essentials, a bow with a matching caribou hide sheathe holding seven arrows, a knife with a caribou antler stock and an obsidian blade, a fire starting kit comprised of a few modified pieces of wood and some flint in a burlap sack, and her game bag, Sam burrows her way through the dandruff-like powder to find herself outside.

The village is a mess. It seems about three feet have fallen in the last two nightfalls. The sky is still gray, much like it was in her dream.

Her neighboring homes look like giant snowy ant hills, mere mounds of Earth rendered useless by the extreme, yet typical, weather. She trudges some fifty feet through her yard, passing one of the only snow machines in town, and eventually nears upon a smaller home in the village. John and the shed he was raised in mean much to Sam. He has been her best friend for as long as she can remember.

John could be perceived as quite the character. Thirty feet from his secondary exit stands his rendition of a palm tree, made of scrap metal and some jerry-rigged 2X4's. She still chuckles as she sees the product of his last week of boredom.

Proudly suspended from one of the green 'palms' is a snow-sprinkled deceased wolverine with an arrow still pierced through its torso. Sammy sighs in envious astonishment as she forcefully brushes the snow from the killer's brown coat. John was too lazy to skin it and clean it the day before. He didn't even clean the blood from the critter's frosted fur. She removes her left glove and approaches the 'tree.'

"I wonder," She ponders under her breath as her bare fingers trace the now solidified dark red blood.

She breaks the arrow in half, pulls both ends from the creature, and throws them in her game bag. She intricately weaves a new arrow into the twine suspending the animal.

"He'll have fun with that tomorrow," she says.

A smile breaks as mental images shoot through Sam. She sees images of the early bird ice fishers who will see her provoking spectacle and know that she is taunting John, images of his father telling John that he has been outdone by a girl yet again, and, more opaque than all, images of her dear friend John's brute face, completely dumbfounded, refraining as best as he can from just snapping the twine because he knows he won't hear the end of Sam's hard earned right to pester.

She slips through the village streets to the best of her ability, incessantly sinking knee deep in fresh powder. The village feels entirely barren. Maybe if these snow-ins weren't so common, others would actually dig their way out of their anthills.

Sam passes the town's general food store simply named 'Niqi.' She named her Siberian Husky after this store, tritely meaning 'meat' in her native tongue, Inyupiaq. Her mother wasn't too keen on the idea, but struggled to conceal her faint smile at her daughter's veridical idea. Quite a kid, her Sammy was to propose this esoteric endearment at an unripe age of seven.

That was ten years ago and the name still raises eyebrows among the 300 or so in her community.

Upon registering that only the top half of the store sign is legible, she wades through the snow to clear it off.

"Civil duty complete," she recites as she pats the wooden slab a few times, wishing it well after brushing aside its hackneyed hiemal burdens.

A content half smile brightens the snow around her as she walks away. Performing benevolent and anonymous acts of kindness for elders always lifts her spirits. She likes to imagine the shopkeeper's gleam when she wonders who gifted such a quiet and meek elder with yet another random service. Sue is such a sweet old woman.

She passes a few more homes, contrasting their size to her own home's.

"I am blessed, I suppose," she admits meekly as she scrubs the coagulated blood from the arrow. She catches a whiff of the iron and her legs go numb, causing her to stumble. She puts the arrow back in her game bag.

Looking up from all fours, she catches a glimpse of her uncle on his always-a-work-in-progress porch. He is struggling to formulate smoke rings with the gentle, yet bone-chilling breeze. "Is it worth the cancer?" Sam grunts as she stands and hollers out to him playfully.

He catches her eyes, sets down his tobacco pipe, and affirms, "Every damn hit."

Sammy rolls her eyes and remains dormant until he emits three increasingly violent coughs. The two of them make eye contact once more and erupt into laughter. His is somewhat embarrassed because he has dropped his pipe, but Sam's only response is a gut-wrenching cackle with an array of mouse-like squeaks intermittently bellowed.

It seems every encounter they share involves guttural discharge, whether it is his ever-prominent wheezing smoker's cough or the acidic encore of the precious fire whiskey from his younger days. He and his brother, Sam's father, used to drink bottle after bottle before the bar closed.

But that was a long time ago.

Sam brings her right hand to her left breast in the shape of a crude 'C.' It depicts a half heart. He follows suit and lifts his right hand to the left side of his chest and imitates her hand. He smiles and retrieves his pipe with every intent of inhaling his carcinogenic smoke for quite some time.

"Addiction is quite an inspiration, even if it is just strong enough to make one leave their home to satisfy it," Sam thinks.

Walking away, Sammy repeats, "Oh, Jimmy," as her mind has blankly ruminates upon the innumerable times they have shared similar moments before.

There isn't much past Jimmy's home; a couple of shanties and lean-to cleaning stations for caught wild game. These seem to make Sam's stomach growl. Whether it is yesterday's stress, the horrible aroma of the loose-leaf tobacco that permeated through Jimmy's pipe, or Sam's own negligence to eat for the last thirty six hours, she now has a formidable stomach ache.

She meanders over to a neighbor's desolate lean-to and rummages through their tools and eternal clutter, only retrieving bone scraps and some ivory. She contemplates solutions for a minute or so and decides to relieve some old newspapers and several dry wood scraps of their stagnant existence in the lean-to as well. Shoveling them into her game bag in a guilty hurry, she scurries away.

She rationalizes her act by concluding that her stolen goods would have rotted before they were used if she had left them. She can always replace them anyhow.

And, as planned, her guilt slowly wanes.

Past these homes, shoddy, snow blasted village wind fences, and some open field on the outskirts lies the town's whale processing area. While, to an extent, the entire village processes and ferments meats, the bowhead whales are so monstrous that everyone in town shares the abundance of muktuk (whale meat.)

Despite their distance from the arctic shore, the whale are so abundant and large that it would be literal mass suicide to deny their nutrition.

It is sustenance. It is food.

"Save the bowhead—for dinner," she mumbles to herself with a chuckle and a grin.

If it weren't for the whaling captain's trusty aim and the whaling squad's return of these mammoths, many would starve.

The year round stench of the fermenting creatures in this cellar is even more potent than her neighbor's indoor grown kapaya (marijuana.) Sammy rather enjoys both smells.

The steel door is locked, as it always is until whaling season.

It is then that the young men of the village will risk their lives in the same way they always have. They will risk their lives in the same way they always will to.

There is some maktaaq (whale skin fat) lying on the ground near the door that had gone bad and been feasted upon by some polar bear. The pile of meat had suffered from bite marks that could only come from the mandibles of a white beast.

"I've never been that hungry!" She laughs, kicking a 20 pound chunk larger than her head.

With a peripheral and disconcerting glance, she cautiously kneels down and inspects the meat.

Judging by the small amount remaining and the fact that the meat is lying above the snow, she deduces the polar bear had feasted since the storm cleared.

The storm cleared two hours ago.

Her heart begins to race and she feels alive. She throws off her 'bearded seal' gloves and discards them carelessly beneath her feet. She draws her bow and prepares an arrow in its sights. The tundra is so fresh that it should be blinding, yet the color is merely an off-gray under the lazily illuminated gray sky.

Making out the faint yellow tint of the world's most feared and most ferocious predator in these conditions feels like a futile effort.

She backs into the steel door, unable to feel its chill through her parkie (fur jacket.) Sliding to her bottom, she tries to relax.

Tortuous thoughts begin to overtake her. She has seen victims of this white killer before. She has seen arctic fox, large game, and even wolves carelessly and whimsically torn to shreds. Only the wolverine seems to evade a quite hackneyed end.

She has seen men left maimed and limbless. One man was even stripped of several two foot long patches of skin from his back.

She struggles for control until finally overcoming her panic by chanting, "Not now! Not now!" repeatedly under her breath.

She decides that if she survived yesterday, she can survive today.

Yet, underlying thoughts of the peace that this monster could bring her begin to swell in her mind. This onerous bear could end the comorbidic battle that has become her life. The beast could end it now. Apparitions of her childhood song and, moreover, her mother snap her out of this irrational and painful thinking.

Frantically putting her efficacious hours of school study to work, she begins to desperately play with numbers.

"One and a half miles back to Jim's in this weather would be twenty minutes," Sam quickly mumbles. "The bear is anywhere within ten miles but it is probable he stayed to finish his—."

Her mouth is left agape before she can speed speak the word 'niqi.' She sees the bear less than one mile away from her. It is near her uncle's house.

She stands up, locks eyes with the beast, and declares, "I can't become niqi."

She grabs her gloves and conceals her bow while shuffling to the other side of the cellar entrance, opposite the bear. If it wants her, it can have her. There is no questioning this. However, she concludes, if it is still slaked from its previous meal, she may not be worth the hunt.

She sneaks a lone eye around a corner and back to the bear.

A shrieking chill runs down her cold spine. She now finds two—a mother and a respectably-sized cub. While the mother seems to wane off into the distance, towards the village, the cub is encroaching.

As if being driven by a force breathed into her by the elders' sacred spirits that she has never fully believed in, Samantha walks into the abyss.


Thoughts race as she marches away from what she accurately assesses as probable death. Sam humbly ponders how fortunate she is.

"I am blessed, I suppose," she says almost angrily as she puts her gloves back on.

The few minutes that her hands were exposed have already left her fingers numb and useless. Her mother used to tell her that on the coldest days, her skin would freeze in five minutes if unprotected.

Thankfully, an innate voice somewhere within her reminded her this adolescent lesson is not to be forgotten. And by the grace of some god, it wasn't one of the coldest days.

As she walks, the snow continues to get thicker, deeper, and less dense. What, in the village, was fresh powder atop a trodden and maintained trail has become an untraveled, untamed, and unnamed plain of nothingness.

She is now in the tundra.

The terrain is not of a consistent manner, but it is divided into layers, each worse than the terror beneath it. The bottom level is a compact ice that only melts for a short two to three months of the year. Laid upon that is thick, packed snow that, if on the top, would be an inviting trail.


Excerpted from Birch Tree Road by Keldon Irwin. Copyright © 2014 Keldon Irwin. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Introduction, vii,
Dedications, xi,
Chapter 1, 1,
Chapter 2, 15,
Chapter 3, 29,
Chapter 4, 39,
Chapter 5, 49,
Chapter 6, 63,
Chapter 7, 75,
Notes, 85,

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Birch Tree Road: An Alaskan Fable 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
He padded into his den with a mouse in his jaws and ate it. He layed out some moss and layed down.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Pants. No more she wheezes as she goes back to camp.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Falls out of nowwhere " help me" passes out
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I am having my kits! She gasped. Its so painful! (She has three kits. Rainkit, firekit, and cloudkit.)
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
She sits down, looking at the newborn kits excitedly