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Go on an Alaskan Adventure with These Books

May 2, 2020

Another Way for week of May 1, 2020

Go on an Adventure with These Books

Yours truly at the port of Haines, Alaska.

When I started writing this column back in early February, I had just finished reading three memoirs, two by women who lived in Alaska as far back as the 1930s. A third is currently a resident of Haines, Alaska who blogs, writes obituaries for a local paper (which lead to books), and has been a correspondent for NPR.

I had very little in common with the two older, now deceased adventurers, but their books left me with an awe and admiration for our beautiful and still wild 49th state. I admired their ability to rough it, work incredibly hard under extreme conditions, eat mundane diets and understand that plane accidents, drownings, and avalanches too often claim loved ones or people they knew.

You may recall reading here about our long-awaited visit to Alaska last summer with four others. This year, you couldn’t get me on a cruise, so we’re doubly thankful we made the trip last year.

My sister-in-law bought two books while there which she shared with me. Tisha: The True Love Story of a Young Teacher in the Alaskan Wilderness, by Anne Hobbs Purdy, (as told to Robert Specht) was captivating. “Tisha” is the name Alaskan natives called her (think “teacha, as said by a child). First published in 1976, it covers the journey of a 19-year-old teacher to Alaska when it was not even a state. Some children had no school at all if local leaders couldn’t find a teacher willing to come and live in the primitive but fascinating wilderness.

The story, as compelling as any novel, had me on the edge of my bed numerous times as “Tisha,” adopted two indigenous children who were orphaned when their mother died. The prejudice of white settlers towards the original peoples is fairly startling, at least to this reader—and to Tisha.

Two in the Far North by Margaret E. Murie, is not as well written, but again gives readers rich insights into what life was like in Alaska before cruise ships started making tourism one of Alaska’s main industries. Margaret first lived in Alaska as a young girl herself. She finished college in the “lower 48” and then went back north and eventually married a biologist, Olaus. Together they spent many years documenting, researching and preserving much scientific information there: animals, flowers, trees, rivers, tundra lichens. His research showed that caribou, for instance, seemed to know when the lichen they munched on was getting scarce and needed time to grow. The caribou then traveled in great herds to new ground to find fresh food.

The most amazing part about Murie’s book was how she and her husband had their first child and took him along at 18 months on one of their summer-long research projects in the wild. They had to guard constantly to not only keep their son from sliding off their boat, but also protect him from the swarms of mosquitoes that make summers difficult in the backwoods of Alaska. (How do you feed a toddler when mosquitos zoom into his mouth?) Olaus and Margaret became champions of preserving the remote landscape of Alaska and elsewhere, to keep as much of the territory and now state in its natural condition.

Finally, I heartily recommend the books of a current author, Heather Lende. If You Lived Here, I’d Know Your Name is inspiring and life-affirming. Currently she’s sharing readings on YouTube of another of her bestselling books, Take Good Care of the Garden and the Dogs, for people to enjoy during this stay-at-home time.

Now it is May and we’re three months into this pandemic. I can identify very much with a comment lifted from Murie’s book. A man who originally came from Vermont and moved to Alaska talked about living where sometimes he didn’t see another human for months:

“You get so you don’t care [about how you look]; there’s nobody to care if you do care; you get in an awful rut … and after a while the life up here gets a hold of you so you can’t fit in anywhere else.” (p. 147)

Most of us can identify with this man. But reading any of these books or a multitude of others will surely lift us out of a rut, help us learn from other times and places, and survive this period of quarantine. And when I think I just can’t do something, I think about these women who survived excruciatingly hard circumstances, and grit my teeth and dig in.


What takes grit for you to get through it?


Which of these women’s adventures sound the most exciting to you?


What book has taken you on an adventure?


Read more about our Alaska adventure last summer here.

Comment here or write me at or Another Way Media, P.O. Box 363, Singers Glen, VA 22834.

Another Way is a column by Melodie Davis, in syndication since 1987. She is the author of nine books. Another Way columns are posted at a week after newspaper publication.  



  1. Our library has been closed indefinitely, so I’m reading e-books which have piled up on my Kindle. I don’t like reading digitally. Give me a paper book with “real” pages to turn.

    • I totally agree with needing/wanting real pages. And I’m on screens too much anyway. (Don’t even have a Kindle). But in this situation, it is nice for you to be able to access ebooks. What a time.

  2. Beverly Silver permalink

    Thanks, Melodie!

  3. I’m so glad I didn’t recognize any of the books you mentioned, picked up a Heather Lende. Two in the Far North has been added to the list as well. I stumbled on your blog because I’ve been wanting to go to Alaska for years now, but haven’t the courage frankly. My experience with Alaska has been lived through Into the Wild. I hope your Lende book gives me a kick in the pants!

    • The Heather Lende book should be an invitation to become acquainted! Of course, visiting as a tourist is one thing, living there is quite another, I believe. Some of the things I’ve seen on TV about Alaska do not make me want to live there, but visiting opened a whole other new world for us! Thanks for commenting!

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