On The Page: Small Feet, Big Land

Trekking across Alaska’s glaciers is a difficult feat. Trekking across an Alaskan glacier with a two year old and a baby is something that, to me, seems a bit unfathomable. Erin McKittrick and her husband, Hig, accomplished just such a feat. This adventure is detailed in Small Feet, Big Land: Adventure, Home and Family on the Edge of Alaska along with stories of their life in Seldovia.

Small Feet, Big Land meshed with some of my interests: simple living, outdoor adventure, and environmental stewardship but I don’t read much about adventuring with children. McKittrick tells of the struggles and triumphs of living in the outdoors with her son Katmai and daughter Lituya in a very honest way. In a way that never seems like complaining she discusses how the division of parental labor between mother and father affects her. She talks very honestly about evaluating risk as a parent in the outdoors. Furthermore, struggles with discomfort in the wilderness are discussed quite candidly.

Sometimes I wished that Small Feet, Big Land was divided into a couple different books. There were two essential components to the book: the life that Hig and Erin were building with their children in Seldovia, a small town of about 400 residents, and the adventures they took with first one, then two children. Both aspects of the book were really interesting but I often found myself longing to hear more about each of them. McKittrick seems to structure her life as a series of expeditions linked together by home life which is probably what drove the structure of the book.

I enjoyed reading Small Feet, Big Land but I feel like I’m a little bit outside of her target audience for the book. It was fascinating to hear about how she and Hig were able to figure out how to take some pretty serious adventures with children in tow but a parent (or potential parent) would probably enjoy this even more. Outside of children, I heard a lot of myself in McKittrick’s voice and am looking forward to reading her other book A Long Trek Home: 4,000 Miles by Boot, Raft, and Ski about traveling from Seattle to the Aleutian Islands by human power.

 

 

Small Feet, Big Land was provided by Mountaineers Books to 3Up Adventures for review. All opinions are Beth’s.

On The Page: The Quiet World

I just finished reading The Quiet World: Saving Alaska’s Wilderness Kingdom, 1978-1960. Weighing in at nearly 500 pages, I was worried that the book would get “old” or too in depth. I was completely wrong!

The Quiet World details the men and women who fought to save Alaska’s wild places from extractive industry (mining, timber, over fishing and hunting). The author, Douglas Brinkley, is clearly a strong environmentalist. There is little sympathy in this book for multiple use or even responsible extractive industry (except for maybe on the part of Native Alaskans). I was able to deal with this bias just fine because, well, it’s just like my own: the short term cost of keeping wilderness wild pays dividends beyond what we can imagine in the future.

The book introduced me to lots of new (to me) names in Alaska’s environmental history but I was most excited to learn more about Gifford Pinchot, William O. Douglas, and Teddy Roosevelt. (Teddy was the focus of Brinkley’s 2009 book The Wilderness Warrior which is going to be one of my next reads!) I found the end of the book a little weak, just stopping with the early 60’s prior to the adoption of the Wilderness Act of 1964, but that was made clear when I read the acknowledgements: the author is writing Silent Spring Revolution: John F. Kennedy, Rachel Carson, Stewart Udall, and the Modern Environmental Movement 1961-1964. Brinkley is conceiving of The Wilderness Warrior, The Quiet World, and Silent Spring Revolution as being the beginning of a complete series of American Environmental History.

The book was well written, covered a lot of ground, and gave a great background on how we managed to have so much of Alaska preserved in various federal agencies. It also made clear how precarious that protection can be.