Newman releases memoir on Alaskan childhood

Author Leigh Newman is in Anchorage this week to celebrate the release of her new book, “Still Points North: Surviving the World’s Greatest Alaskan Childhood,” released last month.


Here’s a brief excerpt:

“Two hundred nautical miles away from town, it was already the first of the two weeks of autumn. The rivers below the plane lay lead-colored and salmon-less. The leaves on the low bushes had turned a thin, tissue-paper yellow, while beside them whole plains lay enflamed in raging red moss. The contrast, the speed, the violence with which the world up north changes—I’d forgotten. It’d been such a long time since I’d seen fall from the sky. Dad lowered the stick and we swooped down—again and again—but no caribou.

Finally, by the Naknek River, we spotted a sparse, loose, grazing herd. We landed on the river, tying down the plane to some alders, me pointedly using Dad’s complex, semi-overwrought system of half hitches upon half hitches. After which, the dread kicked in. Why had I agreed to go hunting? What had I possibly been thinking?

I got busy, the best way to avoid talking. I pitched the tent. I loaded day packs. I pumped the camp stove and boiled up spaghetti, then served it still in the pot, the two of us forking slabs of margarine into the noodles and passing the salt. The last of the season’s mosquitoes pulsed in dense clouds above the firelight, almost but not quite stymied by the smoke.

“Dad?” I finally said, “uh, you know that I’m really excited about tomorrow, right?”

“Me too.”

“It’s just. Well, I’m not so into killing a caribou.”

The flames spit and crackled. Dad tossed his coffee grounds into the dark.

“Actually, I don’t want to kill anything. Ever again.”

Dad stared at his knuckles.

I stared at the untied lace of my wader boot. I knew what I looked like to him: a big liberal ding-dong from Baltimore, a hypocrite who no longer understood the reality of the food chain. Maybe I was that. Or maybe I was the person I’d always been, the one who had tried to rescue mauled baby ducks as a little girl, using a lightbulb and a shoe box. Who was also the same little girl who used to help her dad blast healthy grown-up ducks straight out of the sky.

Or maybe I was just trying to tell him that I wasn’t his daughter anymore, really sock him one in the heart. It didn’t feel that way. But maybe that’s what I was doing. Because that’s what it looked like from the outside. Bagging a caribou is an Alaskan teenage tradition. Everybody does it. With their dad.”

Excerpted from STILL POINTS NORTH by Leigh Newman Copyright © 2013 by Leigh Newman. Excerpted by permission of Random House, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Newman is deputy editor and head of books coverage for Her fiction and essays have appeared in One Story, Tin House, and The New York Times’s Modern Love and City sections.

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