A Non-Fiction Triad: Alaska Here We Come

I first came across Adrienne Ross Scanlan’s poetry ten years or so ago when I was assistant editor at The Centrifugal Eye, a now defunct literary journal . Exactly which of Adrienne’s poems we published, I can’t recall—or even if we ended up with one of her works. I’m confident we did because, her writing is so vibrant and true; it has since been a continuing joy to follow her career, primarily through her monthly newsletter, which I’ve been receiving since 2013. And from those pages jump into her books.

That joyful reading experience is certainly true for her 2016 non-fiction book,Turning Homeward: Restoring Hope and Nature in the Urban Wild. It’s one of the few books I have two copies of; one’s in the library at Hollybrook House, the other resides in the condo study.  I want her words near.

As a citizen scientist, Adrienne has spent countless hours in the urban wilds of her home near Puget Sound in Washington State (think Seattle area). She’s been studying the theory and practice behind stewardship and restoration, most specifically in Turning Homeward toward preserving the sockeye salmon streams that those iconic fish navigate to spawn. As she notes: “I was being called to witness.”

In teaching us about the sockeye’s lifecycle, its feeding and breeding requirements, its predators, its losses to civilization along its natal streams, we join in as witnesses—and practice along with her the centuries-old Jewish tradition of tikkum olam—the “repair of the world.”  We don’t have to pull on our mukluks to wade in Cottage Lake Creek or Squire Creek to count spawning salmon, or scratch and cut our hands salvaging flora specimens from “areas set to become housing developments, strip malls, or highways”—plants that will then be replanted along streams, wetlands, and estuaries that are vital salmon restoration sites. We can practice tikkum olam from the comfort of an easy chair, thanks to Adrienne’s instructive and inspiring little book full of big meaning.

Early in the book, Adrienne asks us a question she asked herself at the onset of her quest to help the native salmon of her region: “What did it mean to live in this place we shared?” And that question becomes ours to answer as well. What flora and fauna do I share my neighborhood with? And what does it mean to me to cohabit with pileated woodpeckers and woodchucks? Bits of an answer to her question have made their way into journal entries and poems, but it will be years, if ever, before the full answer emerges, just as it’s taken Adrienne years to write this book in which one of her bits of an answer to that big question is to conclude: “Every forest is its own resurrection.” Or this bit of an answer: “One life dies; life itself never dies.”

Turning Homeward is one of the greatest books of place I’ve ever read and they easily account for 50 linear feet of books of library shelving. With uncommon spiritual depth and elegant prose, Adrienne teaches us in 157 pages how to see a place on its own terms. My home place is more a home, a richer home, a dearer home thanks to this tireless, gifted writer.

For more about Adrienne Ross Scanlan, visit her website and sign up for lively, informative monthly newletter at:


To get your copy of Turning Homeward (Mountaineer Books), go to:


For the next book in this trio of short reviews, we’re heading north up the west coast of the United States, all the way to Alaska, to Glacier National Park, to the watery world of Kim Heacox, author of The Only Kayak: A Journey into The Heart of Alaska (The Lyons Press, 2005).

My knowledge of Kim and his writing is recent—August 2018—and brief. He was a guest lecturer aboard the Sea Bird, a small (152 feet) Lindblad expedition vessel, during our 18-day voyage through Southeast Alaska. He came aboard for the evening we were docked at National Park HQ in Gustavus, AK, wielding a supply of books to sign and sell, and his Martin guitar! A book reading/signing and a concert in the intimacy of the little ship’s lounge where every seat was a prime seat and Kim didn’t need a microphone to amplify his voice and his wild message from cold northern fjords and passages.

The Only Kayak takes place in Alaska, one my most beloved spiritual homes, which, despite its distance from my home place, I’ve been fortunate to visit a dozen times, including twice before to Glacier Bay, whose headquarters are noted on the map.

My copy of The Only Kayak is signed:

The Only Kayak reminds me I once was an avid kayaker for 20 years, only recently retired from the sport due to the lack of cartilage in my right shoulder. When Kim writes about his long, lonely paddles into the far reaches of Glacier Bay, the perils of tides and hidden currents, the cold and fatigue, the chance encounters with wildlife…I know firsthand some of what he experienced. He kayaked Prince William Sound as well, shortly after the Exxon Valdez “smeared more than 1,500 miles of coastline from Prince William Sound to Kenai Fjords to Kodiak Island and across Skhlikof Strait to the Katmai Coast and beyond. He witnessed the devastating spill, “the crude awakening” of “carcasses of thousands of seabirds.” I’d kayaked Prince William Sound, too, but, by the time I arrived ten years later, much had been restored, at least to the naked eye, with only occasional glimpses of gummy black crude oil yet rolling up on shore in amorphous blobs the size of golf balls.

The Only Kayak is this reader-writer’s dream book—Kim’s a mad quoter, so his text is rich in the words of an amazing range of other writers (plus a couple musicians). I made a list as I read: Wallace Stegner, F. Scott Fitzgerald, John McPhee, Lao-Tsu, John Muir, Larry McMurtry, Blaise Pascal, William Kittridge, Susan Sontag, Paul Cézanne, Albert Einstein, John McPhee, Edward Abbey, Gertrude Stein, Joseph Conrad, Jack Turner, Aldo Leopold, René Descartes, Louis Agassiz, Frédéric Chopin, William Manchester, Barry Lopez, Nick Jans, Mary Oliver, Thomas Jefferson and Alexis de Tocqueville. Did I miss one?  You tell me!

Like Adrienne Ross Scanlan, Kim Heacox asks an essential question of himself and of his readers: “But where am I going? Where do I belong?” I’ve answered those paired questions many times; I suspect I’ll keep asking and answering them again till I cease to be.

Anyone who lives in Alaska or who’s been there will want to read this book. Kayakers will too—he tells some harrowing tales of near-death upon the waters. And anyone who cares an iota for this planet will gain from Kim’s experience and wisdom in some of the most beautiful places on this planet.

Happenstance in Gustavus

On the night of mystic Alaskan

rivers, straights, sounds, inlets, fjords, arms,

bays, passes, narrows, coves—

I tell you to come

curl into my body

that I may purl our landscapses

into this lesson of love.

Because I was once depositional,

I show you the slow puissance of glaciers;

because I was once erosional,

I teach you voracious wind and water ways;

I display the many pleasures

of geomorphology, among so many

epiphanied seductions.

I am mountain.

I am boulder.

I am cobble.

I am pebble.

I am grain of sand.

I am your lover,

your Earth;

I have Time

for your Imagination.


Nancy Lord was a stranger to me. Never met her at a book reading, never bumped into her in a lit mag. Oddly, I don’t recall the circumstances of buying her 1997 Fishcamp: Life on an Alaskan Shore. No doubt it was on my most recent trip into Alaska in 2019 where I probably picked it off a shelf in a National Park store. Regardless I’m very glad she and her words came into my life.

Fishcamp is a traditional memoir in which Nancy takes us for a summer-long adventure along the shores of Cook Inlet, a long, narrow body of water not too far south of Anchorage, the state’s capitol. She and her husband Ken are fishers—fisherfolk who fish commercially, and as such “participate in the life of those places” as they responsibly harvest their modest catch, enough to keep them afloat as they’ve done for twenty years, and enough to share with the bears (black and grizzly) who are also sustained by the salmon of Cook Inlet (photo below).

Nancy Lord is a wisewoman, a sage. She has much to teach her readers, beginning with Lesson One: Pay attention!  Pay attention not so much to her words as to the world around you. And she shows us how to go about doing that. Whether a “snake-necked trumpeter swan” or the chartreuse of a fiddlehead ready to pluck and sauté gets our eyes’ attention, paying attention to our home place has many rewards, chief among them: “I feel myself woven right into the fabric of the [fish] net, into the whole, webbed life that surrounds me.”

But we also need more than ourselves. “I’m convinced we need something other than ourselves in order to recognize the truths of our existence and make sense of what we do. More than talk shows, advice columns, and psychiatrists, our lives need metaphors.” Double amen, says this poet! So Nancy says, “Although I’m without human companionship for a time, I’m surely not alone.” She tunes into the radio. She keeps a journal “to find out what I think.” She writes letters. And she talks aloud to herself during those long summer days of the midnight sun while her husband is out on the water fishing. Ha! Sounds familiar.

What a privilege to spend these pages in such intelligent company. I think she achieved her goal in writing this book: “to do what I can to bring together history and heaven.”

Nancy has written several books since Fishcamp. Find out about them and more about the author at:


To order your copy of the book, go to:

I’ll leave you today with this, a poem also from Athabaskan Fractal: Poems of the Far North, which will take you to Cook Inlet on a summer day not unlike many, many that Nancy Lord saw from her humble camp:

Coming to the Kenai Two by Two

Clouds lower themselves

onto Chugach peaks,

a range in an intimate,

delicate embrace. 

Mountains scree down

to the gray waters of Turnagain Arm,

encircling the fjord

with a firm hold. Ocean current

cradles orca & beluga,

grayling & char, the storied

chinook & sockeye.

Air current abides bald eagles.

The Earth breeds its pleasures

in rain showers & rainbows.

Black spruce & quaking aspen  

succumb to the caress of mist.

Pairs of ravens trail

northern stars & waxing moon

A woman awaits the glacier,

to throw her body at its granite feet.

It will one day take her,

turn flesh into silt,

with a rushing lust for the sea

where the leviathan sings.

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