John Haines was born in 1924. In 1947, he bought 160 acres of land 80 miles out side of Fairbanks and homesteaded, hunted, and trapped in the area until 1969 (https://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/john-haines). His writings really hit home with me and mirror an Alaska that I feel familiar with. In his story “Lost’, he talks about the human encounter with nature where nature has won. Haines translates these stories, and his own personal experiences, into images of landscape, of landscape that is impervious to the wants and needs of man or animal.
I believe that the way Haines made the connection between his landscape and his inner psyche was by living it and by learning from the successes and mistakes of others. By depending upon this land, by being forced to rely upon himself when it came to surviving in this land, Haines understood that the land itself made him who he was. It built his character, made him strong and observant, and it expanded his senses. He came to understand a reality about the land in that is both friendly – you get to know and become familiar with your surroundings – yet remains unforgiving. This sentiment is aptly described in a passage from Lost: “There, in the cold that gripped my face, in the low, blue light failing around me, and the short day ending, in those familiar and friendly shadows, I was suddenly aware of something that did not care if I lived.’
Because, in a large degree, the landscape defines lifestyle in Alaska, writers must elaborate upon the nature of the landscape and its affect upon the lives of Alaskans. We are framed by the land, the climate, the extent, or lack, of development and amenities, and by the remoteness and the wild animals that dwell here. A complete picture must include it all. The very beauty and uniqueness of the Alaskan landscape grips the very soul of all who lay eyes upon it. No writer could possibly ignore the landscape.