Discussion 2: 17 comments

Hey folks, I just want to let you know that last week’s discussion went great. Sometimes I can’t join in until later, but you all did a great job talking to one another and sharing resources. Just a brief reminder that referring to your reading assignments from this week is important. The discussion area is a great place to talk about what you’re reading so that you’re more prepared for the midterm and final.

A map is a kind of mask. It’s a constructed surface used to help someone understand what the mapmaker finds valuable or important. Geologists use topographical maps to display geographic information.   Political scientists use political or demographic maps display information about people or populations. Businesses and organizations create tourist maps to encourage interaction with tourists. You get the picture.

An illustrated map of the Windham Bay Mining Camp showing mining claims. Via Alaska’s Digital Archives.


Watch this very short TED Talk by Derek Sivers and then discuss the topic of mapmaking and values.



How are the authors from this week’s reading assignments mapping their world? What value systems are at work when they “map” the Alaskan landscape? Discuss some ways in which you might re-map your own, local Alaskan landscape in order to see it in a new light.


Also, feel free to browse some of the details of this book on the 1899 Harriman Expedition:

About Madara Mason

Madara Mason's hats include painter, graphic designer, Instructional Designer, faculty educator, English Instructor, food blogger, and Oxford Comma Aficionado. If she's not in front of an easel, she's in front of a screen, or in front of a classroom. Her motto is "If you're not having fun, you're probably doing it wrong."

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17 thoughts on “Discussion 2:

  • Kari Firlik

    The illustration of map is based on the importance of which to direct individuals with a particular mission or thought of the illustrator. The authors use words to map out what is their particular significance in a visual cortex to show others their surrounding areas in their life. If the authors describe their surroundings in their environment, someone like me could probably relate to how they feel about their surroundings and become enraptured in their belief system or even agree with their point of view. The Alaskan landscape was mapped in their own value systems for their everyday resources in what they need or prosper from.

    If I was going to think about remapping the Alaskan landscape, I would acquire a map that is based on a biological stand point. The map would acquire the thought of, “Where is the natural resources located in Alaskan territory?” If the state of Alaska was based upon these principles, why not create a map determining where we might find natural resources that we could use or even study. The map would be a virtual stimulating map for all science majors.

    • Nikki

      I would have to agree with you in the way to remap Alaska. I think that it would be interesting to see where all the natural resources are located. I would be curious to see what all is out there in the undiscovered areas of Alaska.

  • Patricia

    The authors’ of this week’ s reading assignments “map” the Alaskan landscape in a beautiful way. “ The Yukon begins to widen at Dawson; the hills are farther apart and seem bigger and higher, and certainly more bare.” “ The hill behind Dawson seemed to be sitting high above the town, with arms spread about the sprawling clot of man’s hurriedly built, haphazard structures.” These two excerpts are from the story Two in the Far North by Margaret E. Murie (page 96). The first quote tells the reader the location from where they Yukon starts to widen and mentions its hills size. I also really like the metaphor used when using the word “arms” from the second quote which keeps on describing the hills. This is Margaret Murie’s story that tells the reader her experience when she went to Alaska at the age of nine years old.
    “An immense panorama of tundra stretched for more miles than I could see across a treeless expanse, dotted with hundreds-no, thousands of potholes winking the afternoon sun.” This is an excerpt from Uncle Charlie by Frank Dufresne (page 111), this story talks about when the author looked for his lost uncle Charlie who joined the Klondike Stampede in 1897 and talk about how he found him. This quote is wonderful because the author describes Nome in an astonished way due to its beautiful landscape and scenery when mentioning the large tundra.

    I live in a very small community. The way I would re-map my own local Alaskan landscape would by having bigger graphics of my community’s river and the important buildings like the school, post office, dock, clinic and airport.

    I really liked the Derek Sivers TED talk regarding the topic of mapmaking and values. It is clear that countries have different values. In the video, Derek Sivers gives an excellent example in order to understand mapmaking and how it is connected with values. What we assume is the universal common way to understand each other it is not. One of the examples given was when a Japanese asked a person in the United States about the name of a specific block. The person only knew the names of the streets and numbers. The Japanese left unhappy because he did not get the name of the block. He couldn’t understand why he didn’t know the name of the block. This means that the value in the United States is different from Japan. In Japan streets have no names but blocks do have names. Therefore, American maps are different that Japanese maps because each country considers that some information is more relevant than other.

  • aaron

    Mapping is something that I’ve always been fascinated with. As a natural resource management major, GIS (geographic information systems) classes are arguably some of the most applicable skills one can take away from the college experience because it helps an agency or organization visualize and physically organize where everything they’re working with is located. This is especially true in the forestry industry where logging roads are constructed to reach parcels of remote land. Latitude/longitude rules supreme because subjectivity (“just to the southwest of that breast-shaped hill”) doesn’t provide such concrete answers. That’s why strict methods of mapping were developed. I’m currently doing an internship with the Nature Conservancy on Moloka’i and we conduct wildlife monitoring, invasive species removal, etc. We use GPS data and link this information to computerized systems in showing the exact coordinates of where we encountered tibouchina or Australian tree ferns within Kamakou Preserve, for example. The location can be revisited later to inspect whether or not the invasive species has grown back after we removed it. A very specific backcountry wilderness setting is harder to describe through landmarks than an urban location within a city so these digital tools are vital in the resource manager context.

    That Derek Sivers TED talk was perhaps the perfect video to brainstorm the idea of mapping being relative to cultures and/or different geographic regions. Its noteworthy how the Japanese designate numbers for a residence based on the chronological time in which it was built. I thought it was really interesting how they identify residences along a street in exactly the opposite way of Americans! It represents the black/white of our constructed physical reality. While potentially describing the same location, we place value on either the names of roads or the blocks between road intersections. What a dichotomy.

    The excerpt from Tisha by Robert Specht illustrated the value systems of a map in the Alaskan landscape very well. “We’re going to make a map of Chicken—its history and geography, what grows here, what’s produced here, everything. After that we’ll find out about other places.” (pg 115) To Jimmy, there was nothing to know about the small community of Chicken; “there’s nothing here” he says. Many others might very well argue the same thing. (According to the 2010 Southeast Fairbanks Area census, Chicken has a year-round population of only 17 inhabitants!) However, to a few of those children living there back in the early 1900’s whose families subsisted on the land, it may have been their whole world. They subsequently mapped this place of “nothingness” based on the physical geography of its creeks, the placement of students’ cabins, and by collecting leaves and rocks. The latter may seem strange but those things represent maps of their own: the grand evolution of how deciduous trees came to develop photosynthetic leaf material, and the complex geology of what is present-day interior Alaska. In mapping the world, we are only limited by our imaginations.

    • Patricia

      I agree with you about the clarity of Derek Siver’s TED talk regarding the idea of mapping. I honestly did not know that in today’s world , people could communicate so different based on different values. I agree with you that mapping involves creativity.

  • Misty

    Reading stories about Alaska I usually get the feeling that the person hasn’t really been here. With these stories the details they use you can tell that they were there. They saw saw it and it touched them in some way. I liked how the story “The Killing” by Rex Beach explains Nome when the girl first sees it. That it is a big bustling place with tents all over simply because somebody found gold, and then we see the landscape change in a story further on in the book, “Uncle Charley” by Frank Dufresne. By that time Nome isn’t as big and bustling. It is an interesting contrast. The words Frank Dufresne uses to describe his wanderings in the wilderness outside of Nome makes you want to go see it to. That is what a story should do is pull you in and make you want to be a part of it. “Among the milling salmon were schools of red-spotted trout, and a fish called grayling with fan-shaped fins, color-speckled like miniature peacock tails. I know what grayling look like but the way he describes them makes me want to study them with him.

    As of right now I am the small town of McGrath. It isn’t really small enough to claim to be a village, but it isn’t big enough to declare itself a city either. All kinds of people have been drawn here to call this town there home. It is a pretty little place but not as pretty as my hometown. McGrath is located on the Kuskokwim, a dirty snake winding it’s way through Alaska. Anvik is on a bigger river. The Yukon is Alaska’s longest river and it winds it’s way up through Canada. If it was a snake it would be a Python. In the summer the summer the little village is alive. It is as green as the Emerald City in “The Wizard of Oz” and while this is a pretty picture it also provides shelter to little enemies. To look on this little village as if by strangers eyes would be the way I would try to map it. The foundations of the old buildings that have been torn down would be carefully marked out to capture other peoples imaginations. Or as by if the eyes of one of my ancient Deg Hit’an Athabaskan ancestors. I’m sure they would gape in marvel at this little village say is out in the middle of nowhere. They would probably laugh at us and say we had no clue about being out in the middle of nowhere, with nothing.

  • Imaginary Chaos

    Mapping is an interesting way to use the landscape in stories.The authors from this weeks’ reading assignments map their world through their different styles of writing. For example Louis L’Amour uses the surrounding areas to create settings. He uses the water to talk about the boats, and the mountains to describe the surrounding areas. As do most of the other authors from this weeks reading assignments. I think that some of the values that the authors uses when “mapping” the landscape in their stories is to preserve it’s beauty. For example the way that Rex Beach did in the beginning of “The Killing”. He starts off the story by simply talking about “white fields” and the tides.
    In these stories we read this week I think that the authors “map” out Alaskan Landscape in a different way than they did in the short video you posted. They don’t map it out to a very specific area and region, all the way down to a little square and the order that the buildings were built in by year. They try to create a beautiful setting to keep their audiences interested in their stories.
    There’s not much of a way to re-map Fairbanks, Alaska. It is a beautiful city surrounded by mountains and it’s not much of a place to be seen in a new light. I have often heard it referred to as a frozen wasteland though. But I wouldn’t necessarily call it a frozen wasteland.

  • Cherie Lindquist

    The authors from this week’s reading assignments are mapping their world through their writing. I think that is why I loved the excerpt from “Two in the Far North”. I could see the journey the mother and daughter took from Washington to Fairbanks. I think it was helpful that I’m also taking Geography of Alaska this semester because I could better follow the route after making a map of Alaska. I love descriptive writing.

    I think the values that the writers have to express in their stories are about reality, honesty, and integrity. I feel that the writers were very truthful in their depictions of Alaska. How harsh the weather could be. The beauty of the sun on the mountains. The wonder at how remote and lonely the land could be. People who live in Alaska or are familiar with it know that it can be both breathtaking and unforgiving. If you have never read “The Spell of the Yukon” by Robert Service you should. It is my favorite poem. I’ve had it up on my wall in my bedroom for the last three years (You can find it by following this link:https://freemasonry.bcy.ca/biography/service_r_w/spell_yukon.html).

    I wish that the addresses of buildings could coincide with when they were built. I would love to be able to tour different communities by the age of their buildings. To see how they were constructed and find out the history of each building. I know that here in Fairbanks the building that is now Lady Lee’s Bath House Emporium is a historical place. I do not know what different businesses have used that building, but I would like to know.

    • LaVonMarie

      I was also quite taken with Murie story of her adventure to Alaska with her mother. It was refreshing and innocent, and although her values and viewpoint was through rose colored lenses, the sense of adventure was real, and you could easily tell that she fell in love with the experience and this place.

  • Caroline

    Interpreting a map can be much easier if the area is already known. A road that I see on Google Maps may not be much more than a vague ‘goat-trail’ once there. Of the stories from this week’s reading assignments, several detail the experience of those venturing into the vast unknown. In Margaret Murie’s account of her first time to Alaska, every location she encounters is then strongly linked to a memory and experience. While this may be most apparent in historical non-fiction, this value system of first memories can also lend a negative or positive connotation to the area.
    This concept is one that has really stood out to me in many Alaska Native stories. Some stories emphasize details of the landscape as a means of passing that knowledge on to younger generations. Others like, ‘How Raven Brought Light’, engage the landscape in an omnipresent manner. This story could have occurred by any mountain, in any land. I might re-map my local landscape by taking into account these ‘genres’. Familiarizing myself with the legends or memories of others from this area could cast this area in a different light for me. Howard Luke’s personalized map from his biography, ‘My Own Trail’, details different occurrences around the area. For example, the Noyes Slough, which I lived by for most of my life, he knows as Dead Man’s Slough, as a man was once found there. (I could only find a portion of the map online.)
    Continuing in this vein, the poem by Hamlin Garland, entitled Do You Fear the Wind?, really caught my attention. There is one line in particular I would like to discuss. Garland writes of the harsh elements in the North, saying that to overcome one’s fear of the cold, wind, and rain, one must face them. He encourages others to ‘Be savage again’. I really liked this line; I thought it cast a once derogatory term in a much better light. I interpreted it as maintaining the bravery and fortitude to survive in such a land. I was not impressed with the word choice, ‘again’. To me, this refers to the Western view that Alaska Natives are apart of their evolution, history, and culture. To avoid this misinterpretation, I think it is important to keep in mind that Western and non-Western stories and legends cannot be viewed with the same ‘genre’ mindset. Stories, maps, and places can represent legends or memories all the same.

  • LaVonMarie

    There were two stories and possibly more, but in particular these two really stood out to me as ways in which an author used their knowledge of their environment to map were “Uncle Charley” by Frank Dufresne, and “Two in the Far North by Margaret Murie. In “Uncle Charley”, Dufresne after spending two years in the muddy trenches of World War I goes to Nome to find his lost uncle. He soon finds his uncle who was not “lost” but only captured by the wilds of Alaska and its golden call. His uncle convinces him to go gold panning before he boards the ship and heads south again. Here is where the mapping of his future begins–when he encounters the rugged beauty of Alaska:
    ” I turned to look back over the way we had come, and the sight was enough to make a man’s breath catch in his throat. An immense, colorful panorama of tundra that stretched for miles than I could see across treeless expanse, dotted with hundreds–no, thousands of potholes winking in the afternoon sun. Creeks and river looped endless convolutions across the boggy muskeg to the turbid sea, and Bering Sea itself curved away past the coast of Siberia, lurking in the has, and on into infinity across the top of the world. IN this grandeur of unpeopled space, Nome was but a dot.” (Dufresne 111)

    I think right here is where he began to map his future the lay of the land and how it would influence him and the steps he would take. Throughout the rest of the introduction to the story of his life, the reader can see how he will map out the rest of the story. The brilliance in the description of the land and nature further leads on to suspect where his true passion lies. As he panned with his Uncle, although he found it interesting, it was the fish in the stream, the hundreds of birds the nature that captured him: “There wasn’t the slightest sign of a fisherman’s boot heel, and the thought of it nearly drove me out of my mind” (112). Finally at the end of the chapter Dufrense writes:
    “[T]he sun dipped down like a great blob of molten copper into the pale green Bering Sea. IN its dying rays of magenta and deep purple, we watched an enormous migration of sandhill cranes float down from the sky like five thousand open umbrellas and settle with noisy clamor on the hills around us. I told Uncle Charley that this was the feature of his Alaska that stirred me deepest; not the gold, but the primitive land itself with its exciting plenitude of wild things; that if I stayed, this was what would hold me” (112-13).
    And indeed it did since we know this was his autobiography of his life in Alaska as director of the Alaska Game Commission.

    The second story that I thought was also a great example of an author using their environment but from a very different perspective was Margaret Murie story of her adventure to Fairbanks, Alaska to join her step father who was the General Attorney of Alaska at that time. I do not want to endlessly quote her story. Although I easily could because her writing, I thought, is quite brilliant when it comes to describing the country and her emotions towards Alaska. It is however, how she tells the story through the eyes of a nine year old girl. It was obvious in her excitement in the long travel by steamboat up from Seattle, the train ride to the Yukon, however where I thought it became very clear was in her encounters and her interesting take on the Alaskan Natives that were working the wood lots that kept the steam boats powered as they moved down the Yukon river: “Indian deckhands so cheerfully going up and down the wide plank into the boiler room of the Sarah with their trucks loaded, racing down with a shout an a laugh with an empty truck, straining up the land with a full one, still smiling, Life seemed a big happy game for everybody in that land” (Murie 100). As we know, or those familiar with the history of the indigenous people of Alaska, it was actually a very turbulent time for Alaskan Natives, filled with much suffering. Families torn apart, traditions be destroyed, land being taken, it is not a pretty happy cheerful tale at all…it is one in which we are still seeing the repercussions in the lives of Alaskan Natives. However, from the perspective of the young girl, the land and her story, map out a great adventure, and throughout the story the reader is filled with this sense of wide open curiosity and refreshed with the innocence of the author’s childhood experience.

    The discussion question asks us to discuss how we use the land to map out our story and I have actually found it hard to say. Without doubt, I know that the reason why I stay here is because I love this state. I often say that my roots go so deep here, that if you pulled me from this land, I would bleed. I know it sounds strange but my entire identity is wrapped up in this place. The smell, the sights, the seasons, the dark winters, the seemingly endless days of summer light, the type of plants I plant, birch trees, the particular smell of the pine that grows in the Copper River area that gives us a particular sweet smoky smell, the nights when the moon is so bright and the snow reflects it so brightly that the mountains stand against the black night sky–the mountains the guardians to my soul, my sanity, my home. I am not sure how this all maps out my life, my future but this land is an integral part of my identity–it is what makes me Alaskan.

    (Please forgive the incorrect format for the quotations. In Word it was properly blocked without quotation marks and cited right, but when I pasted it in here, the paragraphs wouldn’t indent and I could not double indent the blocked quotes. I apologize for the informality and improper use of MLA.)

  • LaVonMarie

    I see many of us found the story of Margarets as a great example of mapping and I agree, it was so refreshing ot experience it through her story. My moving to Alaska right after I turned six, thirty five years later, it is still as fresh and vivid in my mind the first impressions I had of this place. I am always fascinated with other peoples perspective on Alaska, what brought them here and what keeps them here. One of my greatest joys is when I have a relative come to Alaska for the first time. I love to watch their expressions an listen to them describe this place, everytime they do, I am able to relive the joy of discovery and the fresh wonder of this state. However, I find myself getting irritated with those who do not share the same love. I often wish they would just leave. I know this is unfair of me, but it is how I feel.

  • Nikki

    We know why gold mining towns are in the location they are settled on. And the villages that are located along the coast are relying on the ocean for their source of food. And of course the places that are located on the streams, lakes, rivers, and oceans. But what were those individuals thinking when they settled in areas that did not have gold, a form of water source, or abundance of berries, vegetables, or animals to eat? Our ancestors all along the Yukon Kuskokwim Delta were resourceful and smart in the locations where they settled. But we also have to remember some of them were seasoned travelers. In the summer they settled at summer camp gathering salmonberries, blueberries, blackberries, cranberries, wild celery, quarciqs (I don’t know the English word), fiddleheads, and many more wild vegetables. Fall camp they gathered wild game, salmon fishing, and wood to prepare for the winter. Winter camp they resided in their villages with the abundance of food, and wood. They followed the seasons and what each one had to offer. They didn’t have electronics, or automobiles they did not allow their hands to idle.

    Margaret Maurie, “Two Far in the North,” does an excellent job in allowing us to paint a picture. I can feel the, “red plush-covered seats and curlicue-brass-trimmed arms,” (LNL, 95) that she is describing from the train ride. I feel the hardships and I can picture myself in her shoes. For this new explorer it was uncharted, new, and exciting territory that they she was experiencing. I loved the story because it was from a 9 year old girl’s perspective, her young, innocent eyes experiencing Alaska for the first time. You could feel the excitement in the story from the beginning when she finds out they are traveling to Alaska, the new wardrobes, and the farewells from the boat.

    Reading the stories from Nome, I try to picture Front Street the way that they are describing it. The old buildings, saloons, the busy streets filled with gold miners. All these authors do an excellent job describing the beautiful scenery of Alaska from the mountaintops, to the fears of the seasons. I like how in Joanne Townsend’s poem “Looking Back I Remember,” she writes, “How afraid I was, our first year here, to walk on the frozen lake. I watched the fishholes being cut, the snowmachines whiz across, but couldn’t trust,” (pg 131). And the false hope of the pussy willows. I know these feelings because I hear of many newcomers who come to Bethel and are amazed that we are able to drive on the river to Kwethluk or Napaskiak. The winters are actually nice because we are able to drive across Hanger Lake from Tundra Ridge to the airport. To newcomers this is also a crazy thing.

    With regards to mapping my home here in Bethel, Alaska I think that we are blessed with the abundance of tundra and all that it does for us. We are able to eat off the land. The mountains are 60 miles upriver but they are a gorgeous background. We live on the Kuskokwim River and are able to fish for all types of fish. I wouldn’t map Bethel any other way.