Saturday, January 17, 2015
THE FINAL FRONTIERSMAN by James Campbell
I first heard about Heimo Korth and his Alaskan Arctic life from my two sons. Hunters, canoeists, and fishermen, they are always on the "hunt" for a great wilderness book. Heimo originally left for Alaska as a young twenty year old in the 1970s, determined to never return to the lower 48. Since he grew up in Appleton, WI, his story stayed with me. When at our cabin a while back, I heard on NPR several audio segments of THE FINAL FRONTIERSMAN, the story of Heimo Korth and his family, written by Heimo's cousin, James Campbell, also a Wisconsin native. As Campbell highlighted Heimo's teenage daughters and wife and their views of living 10 months of each year above the Arctic Circle, cut off from civilization, I knew I wanted to read the whole story. This January with its below zero temperatures was the right time to read about survival in temperatures that dip to minus 50 on a daily basis for months on end.
Published in 2004, the book obviously is not totally up to date. The girls have grown up and no longer live out with their parents. Even so, I was totally captivated by their story. This is a hard life and danger is always present. A daily routine like checking the traps can turn into a life and death situation within seconds - a failed snowmachine, a fall into the ice, or poor visibility are always possibilities. As Heimo learned his first winter out, the daily task of keeping a fire going burns more calories than he could provide himself. Securing enough protein (caribou, duck, fish, squirrel, grouse, beaver) is constant and the family always faces a true scarcity of food, therefore nothing is wasted. Greenhorns like the readers probably think the arctic is filled with animals, but we quickly learn that migration patterns, seasons, and the vast wilderness itself make the presence of game an ever fluctuating commodity.
Despite being published ten years ago, I still recommend this book It has become a classic of outdoor/wilderness literature. Ever curious of the "rest of the story" I googled Heimo Korth's name to find an update on him and his family. Lo and behold, I found a blog written by James Campbell's teenage daughter, who had been four years old when her dad spent several trips to Alaska to live with the Korths. What has this teen been doing? Going to Alaska to the Arctic to witness first hand what her dad wrote about. Haven't had the time to read about this Lodi, Wisconsin girl's adventures, but I have the blog marked and I will be checking back to read more.
THE FINAL FRONTIERSMAN is my pick for A GENRE I DON'T NORMALLY READ in the Bethany House Challenge. I read nonfiction on a regular basis, but not titles about wilderness, survival stories. I thoroughly enjoyed the book and found myself reading sections outloud to my husband all the time. So glad I was able to locate a copy through our library system.