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Book shows 'the seduction of movement' as a way of life

Yearning Wild: Exploring the Last Frontier and the Landscape of the Heart" by R. Glendon Brunk

Posted: Sunday, January 20, 2002

R. Glendon Brunk used to be Richard or Dick, but lately he's decided to be Glen. Decades ago, he undertook what he terms "a spiritual journey," and funded that in various ways. For a while he's a dog food dealer in Fairbanks, funding his love affair with dog racing. When he's not hitchhiking through Africa or hanging out for months on a beach in Mexico, he's an aide in a mental hospital, a forest firefighter, a carpenter, a caribou hunter or, most lately, an environmentalist. Now, according to his publicist, he's written a "philosophical memoir that explores the cultural interconnectedness of men, war, and the environment."

Brunk's subtitle strains to peg this book as a tale of Alaska, with the phrase "Exploring the Last Frontier and the Landscape of the Heart." The Last Frontier is only part of the landscape here, although the back cover tells us that "Yearning Wild" is "a guided tour through the life of a man who embodies the deeply American contradictions that make up modern Alaska."

The real theme of the book is revealed by the title he uses for one of his final chapters, "The Seduction of Movement." Brunk won a dog racing championship in 1980, and then sold everything and walked away, for seven years traveling across Africa, Asia and North America.

The use of the word "heart" in the subtitle suggests Brunk is a much warmer fellow than the one in these pages, as he repeatedly shuns relationships and long-term responsibilities, particularly those related to B, the woman he married in 1967, and their daughter, Cara.

The Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data gives off all sorts of signals about what this book is really about, indexing the book under "philosophy" and "pioneers-Alaska, Fairbanks Region-Biography" as well as "Arctic National Wildlife Refuge." Parts of the book are set in Africa, Mexico, Guatemala, New Zealand, Hawaii and Australia, but by giving those months and years short shrift, and expanding on his experiences with the trans-Alaska pipeline, dog racing, and the Bureau of Land Management, he makes Alaska seem the core of the last 30 years.

Maybe an editor somewhere convinced him his "Alaska story" was what he had to sell. But as this book sputters out in mentions of "rites of manhood," "growing realizations" in the oil fields, "exposing the reality of oil development in the Arctic" in a traveling slide show, Americans as "consumer" machines, and so on, it's easy to see that Brunk although capable of creating lively, compelling prose is still searching for value in his life.

Like that Mennonite boy back in Indiana who just had to head out for Alaska, he still seems to be grasping at straws. There is no interconnectedness here simply the muddle that many humans make of existence.

Glendon Brunk currently teaches creative writing at Prescott College in Arizona.

Ann Chandonnet can be reached at achandonnet@juneauempire.com.



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