Monday, June 15, 2009

Review: Tide, Feather, Snow

In the late 1990s Miranda Weiss moved from the continental US to Homer, Alaska. This memoir chronicles Weiss's first two years in Alaska, her relationship to the land, her boyfriend, and the difficult decision of whether to stay in Alaska. Weiss had always been fascinated with Alaska, and she had worked in the wilderness before, in remote areas of national parks. But none of this prepared her for the realities of Alaska. In this memoir Weiss weaves together discussion of the natural wonders and dangers of Alaska along with her own experiences of her new life. The dramatic tides, salmon migrations, and persistent dark of winter all make for more interesting writing than one might expect of a memoir that is heavily focused on climate and weather conditions. For those of us in the lower forty-eight, some of the conditions in Alaska are likely shocking. Weiss knew more than a few people who lived without running water and indoor toilets by choice. Weiss had to ski a half-mile to and from her car in the dead of winter, donning a headlamp. Most of us can't imagine this sort of life- I surely could not. Weiss also discusses the attitudes and assumptions of Alaskans- putting high premiums on time resided in the state. Alaska has always had a reputation as the last frontier, and Weiss's memoir proves that it is just as susceptible to the sort of mythology that has characterized other American frontiers. Perhaps significant is the myth of self-sufficiency. Weiss notes that a desire for simpler lives and self-sufficiency has drawn many to Alaska, but Alaska also has more federal government involvement than just about any other state, likewise, the resettlement of Americans from other states in Alaska means that record amounts of supplies have to be flown in to the state. The contradictions are interesting, and Weiss is clearly attuned to them. It took me a few chapters to get into this book, but it ultimately drew me in. I knew very little of Alaska and I found Weiss's descriptions engaging. She does an excellent job of conveying the extremes and dangers that shape everyday life in Alaska.

Miranda Weiss, Tide, Feather, Snow: A Life in Alaska (Harper, 2009) ISBN: 0061710253

1 comment:

Jennifer Stumpf said...

Nice review. I'm reading this book right now, have had to re-read sections regarding natural history to get a better understanding of the whole picture. I liked her description of alienation from her more easily acclimated partner and the eventual undoing of their relationship largely because of this. Thanks for sharing, this is overall a good read for non-fiction and Alaska enthusiasts alike.