Alaska and the Yukon Territory are exemplary of unrefined natural beauty. For centuries, nomads, explorers, and artists alike have traveled vast distances to experience the insurmountable numbers of natural resources, challenges, and inspiration which these lands exhibit. For many writers who have come here, the bounty of rich tradition and awe arousing nature has provided muse, for which in turn through their art, share the imagery and emotions which this great land instills. The identity of the literature of Alaska and the Yukon is comprised of three major elements, landscape, wilderness, and culture.
|Alaska Yukon Map.|
Landscape is an integral component of literature involving Alaska and the Yukon. It is the architecture for which the author constructs details upon. Details are of course necessary as they make the context interesting, precise, expressive, and most importantly, convincing. The details of the landscape make the imagery tangible by awakening the reader’s senses. Each author has incorporated some form of landscape into their story or poem in Wayne Mergler’s book The Last New Land. Grabbing the book I randomly opened it to Tom Waker’s story Moose: Season of the Painted Leaves. Walker writes, “Not a cloud blemished the sky. Southbound flocks of sandhill cranes calling…The mountaintops to the west, in sharp contrast to the azure sky, were covered with fresh snow. Below the snowline, yellow birch and green spruce mingled with patches of scarlet and white tundra. I strolled about the clearing, stretching and enjoying the srisp, scented air.’(1) In the traditional sense of landscape the reader is able to see the picture which the words paint, in the non-traditional sense, our other senses are awakened, sound and smell. The landscapes which authors use to map their stories could have only had a profound influence on them as artists, hence the effort to so caringly capture the essence of the experience.
|Wilderness and wildlife surround us.
Another factor that is fundamental to literature of Alaska and the Yukon is wilderness. The role of the writer is to awaken the reading audience and introduce or remind them why our wilderness is so unique. The massive amount of land which Alaska and the Yukon span and the comparative lack of infrastructure connecting us, contributes to the premise those of us who live in this region of the North American continent reside amongst the wilderness. There is minimal detachment from the wilderness here, as our cities, towns, and villages are engulfed by wild territory. Glaciers are in our back yards. Grizzly and polar bears wander down streets. Orcas and humpbacks swim in channels where our communities rise above the tide line. Those who live and visit Alaska and the Yukon commune with nature on both conscious and subconscious levels. Many peoples of Alaska and Yukon live in isolation, solely dependent on subsistence and the wilderness to survive. Consider Jim Rearden’s recollection of Sidney Huntington’s story The Flood. Hunting recalls, “Our cabin perched on a point of high, gravelly ground, well above any flood level within memory…The ice dam shifted…Before our astonished eyes the water rose swiftly to the level of the roof…Muskrats rode swirling ice chunks along the shoreline. They too had been washed out of their houses.’(2) Our roles as human beings is enjoy, respect, and protect the wilderness, so as we evolve, develop, and expand, our impact on the wilderness will be minimal, and resources will remain healthy and bountiful for future generations of human and animal inhabitants.
Culture is also a component vital to literature of Alaska and the Yukon. Our cultural framework is complex. Modern and traditional society is interwoven all throughout the land. Our environment sculpts us in many different ways, inadvertently causing us to adapt, making our cultures so varied. We see these cultural differences in the variations of the values, traditions, and languages that are represented by the people of Alaska and the Yukon. The diverse bunch who write of Alaska and the Yukon, with their literature help us better understand the influence and impact of the land and wilderness through perspectives representative of different cultures. Through literature, the writer can observe and or submerge themselves into another culture, then in turn share their experience to the reader, who in turn expands their cultural knowledge and understanding.
The literature of Alaska and the Yukon is comprised of three primary components, culture, landscape, and wilderness. The beauty, rugged, and vast expanse of this land has given inspiration to not just artists, but many of the inhabitants who make this amazing region their home. Nature and cultural traditions are deeply interwoven into our lives here in Alaska. The literature reflects the diverse experiences, landscapes, and cultural traditions of this unique location.
(1) Wayne Mergler, Last New Land: Stories of Alaska Past and Present (Anchorage: Alaska Northwest, 1996), 416.
(2) Wayne Mergler, Last New Land: Stories of Alaska Past and Present (Anchorage: Alaska Northwest, 1996), 508.
Alaska Yukon Map: https://explorenorth.com/library/maps/images/map-ak1899.html