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Reviews 315 Alaska Wilderness. By Robert Marshall ed. and the Introductions by George Marshall. Foreward by A. Starker Leopold. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1970. xl + 175 pages, photographs, maps, index. $6.95) Second edition. Deborah: A Wilderness Narrative. By David Roberts (New York: The Vanguard Press, 1970. 188 pages, photographs, maps). Both of these books tell honestly of wilderness experiences in Alaska. The former describes several expeditions in the Alaskan Brooks Range, dur­ ing the years 1929-39, in which Robert Marshall, whose name now designates a wilderness area in Montana, combined the love of outdoors with the for­ ester’s attempt at developing observations on tree growth characteristics in the Arctic. The latter book, more consciously artistic — its author describes it as a ‘narrative’ — is the second work by David Roberts. His first, The Mountain of My Fear, described an ascent of Mt. Huntington in Alaska. This time Roberts narrates an attempted ascent of Mt. Deborah, an expedi­ tion whose solitude and stress bared strong animosities between Roberts and his partner, Don Jensen. One can appreciate the intentions of the University of California Press in reissuing Marshall’s book at a time when the oil industry is attempting to impress upon us the advantages of building a pipeline through the Brooks Range. Marshall’s picture of the area only forty years ago presents a land with few signs of man. Bear, moose, caribou, grayling, and, yes, mosquitoes, abound. Marshall and his various partners — Ernie Johnson, A1 Retzlaff, Ken­ neth Harvey, Verne Watts, Jesse Allen and Nutirwik, an Eskimo — explored much of the Central Brooks Range with pack horses, or at times with only back packs. His maps of the area have subsequently been proven highly accurate. Except for the mosquitoes, no animal proved dangerous, though they sighted many, shooting some moose for food, and catching numerous grayling for the same purpose. Natural forces proved to be another issue. On his first trip, camped at the confluence of the North Fork of the Koyukuk River and the Clear River, Marshall was hurriedly awakened by A1 Retzlaff. In a day’s hard rain the rivers had risen several feet, and the island camp was close to flooding. After saving the horses and most of their possessions, Marshall viewed the river, “Man may be taming nature, but no one standing on the bank of the North Fork of the Koyukuk on this gray morning would have claimed that nature is conquered.” This remark reflects the nature of Marshall’s writing: accurate and close to concrete, felt experience. Marshall does not intellectualize, and thereby make artifical, the relation of man and wilderness. He retains its hard clarity. In such writing as the following we feel the physical strain of back­ packing: 316 Western American Literature You have hardly gone five minutes when the muscles in your neck are so sore that you know every step for the next six or seven hours will be pain. And we remember the joy of discovery: Unexpectedly you notice a clump of lovely Pyrola you almost stepped on [and] those gayest of white flowers, the Dryas, fairly sparkling with their eight bright petals. . . . Marshall’s accumulated adventures, his knowledge, and his writing skill convince us to trust him. So when he writes of the return from his last expedition, his balanced view is persuasive, “I should be living once more among the accomplishments of man. The world, with its present popula­ tion, needs these accomplishments. It cannot live on wilderness, except incidentally and sporadically.” That was in 1939, when there was more wilderness and less population. Now the Brooks Range may be invaded by, subsumed by, another of man’s accomplishments, an oil pipeline. A final quote from Marshall expresses the dilemma: . . . if the millions wanted this sort of perfection and could attain it, the values of freshness and remoteness and adventure beyond the paths of men would automatically disappear. . . . [T] racts of wilderness paradise urgently need preservation. But mankind as a whole is too numerous for its problems of happiness to be solved by the simple expedient of paradise, whether it lies in Eden or the flower-filled Amawk divide. Marshall does not answer these...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-7142
Print ISSN
0043-3462
Pages
pp. 315-317
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-04
Open Access
No
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