O’Neill casts a mold of the Yukon landscape before nature takes back the last human footprint. He reintroduces us to our more resourceful selves, and reminds us that some people — nutty as they may seem — actually want to live those bumper sticker slogans on beat-up Volvos. To O’Neill, it’s only fair to leave the scrappy individualists to their hidey-huts and fish wheels, their trapping lines and birch canoes, not only for their sake but for ours: to leave a little something for the American imagination, an elemental way of life that is lonely and lovely and very nearly gone.
The New York Times
Outdoorsman O'Neill (The Last Giant of Beringia) steers his canoe through the history and topography of the Yukon River, which runs through Canada and Alaska, letting its course carry his witty travelogue. Drawing from legend, interview and observation, he evokes the river's rustic majesty and the spartan dignity of its vestigial towns, briefly fed by the frenzied Gold Rush of the 1890s. His engaging account of the river's history punctuates its backwater charm, pulling readers into a realm of frigid wilderness and frontier stakeouts. He captures the hardiness of its scattered dwellers in vignettes of outmoded customs and bawdy tourist traditions, including the tale of someone chugging an amputated-toe cocktail in the Canadian town of Dawson. Exploring the conflict between nature and society, O'Neill writes of legendary holdouts (such as crusty Dick Cook, who he acknowledges was also a subject of John McPhee) who chafe at federal mandates that threaten their hardscrabble homesteads. O'Neill's meditations on the river branch into epic themes of self-reliance, heroism and humanity. Poetic renderings of creeks, camps and log cabin settlements bestow a refined gloss on rough terrain, reviving the moribund spirit of the "ghost river connecting ghost towns." (June) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Some interesting characters left their mark along the banks of the Yukon River. Alaskan O'Neill (The Last Giant of Beringia) canoes along this waterway from Dawson, Yukon Territory, to Circle City, AK. The stops along the way initiate tales of the gold rush, salmon, fur trapping, dog sledding, subsistence living, and other aspects of life unique to the Alaskan wilds. Each bend in the river tells a story through its inhabitants: there are the old miners with an unspoken code of living, the fur trappers who built trails through their isolated territories, and those who moved to Alaska in the 1970s to return to nature. As O'Neill describes the decaying cabins and disappearing people, he reveals that regulations and laws changed life for all those along the area of the river that became part of the Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve. Like John McPhee's Coming into the Country, to which O'Neill refers throughout, this is the human history of a place where few people have ever lived. Recommended for collections on Alaska.-Janet Clapp, Athens-Clarke Cty. Lib., GA Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Alaska historian and log-cabin inhabitant O'Neill takes a boat down the central part of the imposing Yukon River in the heart of the continent's northwest extremity; he encounters big bears and beavers, moose, lonesome bearded guys and strong women. Canadian author Pierre Berton and poet Robert W. Service each famously chronicled their homes in Dawson, Yukon Territory. In 1937, Ernie Pyle visited Eagle, Alaska, and 40 years later John McPhee wrote of Eagle in his widely praised Coming Into the Country. Now O'Neill bravely goes where those men have gone before; his journal of his own voyage of rediscovery is equally wonderful. He reports on the wildlife and highlights the important of salmon, the staple food for the people of the Yukon basin. He visits the moribund, silent cabins of departed subsistence people and the historic, vanishing structures doomed by bureaucratic parkland management. He considers the shoreline ghost towns and the detritus left by the sourdough loners of the bush. The riparian natural history is fine, and the human history is even better. O'Neill memorably updates McPhee's good story of Dick Cook, who, he discloses, may have been "in possession of rhetorical gifts that fit pretty well into a long tradition of frontier gasbaggery," and he completes Pyle's tale of intrepid mail carrier Biederman. He tells of fabled Seymour Able and talkative Phonograph Nelson. Whether it's about boats or eagles or hardy trappers, whether it commemorates a monumental dog race or celebrates the magnanimous code of the prospectors of the Yukon Territory and the 49th state, the reportage is as cool and bright as the flowing waters of the Yukon. Another writerly gold strike in theKlondike.