Northern Reads: ‘Passage to Juneau’ by Jonathan Raban

31 03 2011

I’ve known Jonathan Raban’s name — and the names of a few of his classic travel books, like Old Glory, Coasting, and Hunting Mister Heartbreak — for a couple of years now. But until I picked up Passage to Juneau, a narrative about Raban sailing from his home in Seattle up the Inside Passage to Southeast Alaska, I’d never actually read any of his work.

And boy, have I been missing out.

“Passage to Juneau” spans a few months in — if I’ve done the math right — 1996. The narrative moves back and forth (ebbs and flows, if you want to get nautical) between Raban’s solitary reflections on the ship and his encounters in ports along the way. The story of George Vancouver’s exploratory voyage along the same coast is also woven throughout, as is a discussion of the local First Nations, their history, myths, and art.

The writing is precise and evocative — Raban’s command of the language sent me out to buy my own used copy of the book as soon as I finished (I’d been reading one borrowed from the library), so that I could go through and mark up all the passages I admired — but there’s a real story here, too, about family and solitude and loneliness and belonging.

This isn’t one of those beautifully written travel books that beautifully meanders to nowhere in particular. I suppose some people might find the historical and anthropological passages a bit dry, but for me this was an exquisitely written page-turner.


Photo Friday: Sunrise in Fairbanks

25 03 2011

The sun rises on the east ramp at the Fairbanks airport

Off to Atlin

24 03 2011

I’m headed out this morning for a couple of nights in Atlin, a small lakeside town just south of the Yukon border in far northern B.C. I’ve been partway down the Atlin Road but haven’t yet made it all the way to town — I’m excited to fill in a gap in my local geography.

Meantime, here are some shots from my summertime trip down the road — I made it as far as Tarfu Lake, and I’m told things only get more spectacular further south.

The Atlin Road runs south from the Alaska Highway along Little Atlin Lake

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Happy 101st Birthday, Sitka National Historical Park

23 03 2011

Sitka National Historical Park was established on March 23, 1910 with the aim of preserving local native art — totems, in particular.

Though today marks the park’s 101st birthday, last year’s centennial celebrations are still ongoing.

If you’re in the Sitka area in the next couple weeks, you can catch the final event: the raising of a commemorative centennial totem, designed and carved by local artist Tommy Joseph, on April 9.

Sitka is Alaska’s oldest national park. I haven’t made it there yet, but (like so many other places in the north) it’s on my list.

[Photo by zieak via Flickr (Creative Commons)]

Northern Noodle Quest: Green Garden Restaurant

21 03 2011

Green Garden was one of the only names offered up when I first started asking around about where to find the best Chinese food in Whitehorse. It’s located just off the Alaska Highway in Porter Creek — one of the residential subdivisions closest to downtown — and a few acquaintances allowed that they’d heard it was better than most.

Ringing endorsement? Not quite. Still, it was all I had to go on.

A friend and I headed out to Porter Creek to eat, skipping the downtown delivery fee. We ordered vegetarian spring rolls to start (tasty, crisp and more flavorful than the other local spring rolls I’ve tried so far) and then veggie chow mein, chili tofu with satay sauce and — a temporary Chinese New Year special — shrimp dumpling fish balls. The chow mein was bland and greasy, but with an admirable variety and quantity of vegetables included, far beyond the usual strips of cabbage and carrot. (Unfortunately it also included soy-pork strips, an unexpected addition. I’m not big on the fake meat.) The chili tofu was tasty — again, it came with a nice array of veggies — but lacked the spice punch I expected for a menu item highlighted in red text.

Finally, the shrimp dumpling fish balls were… fishy. Chalk it up to a misunderstanding: We figured we were getting mixed fish/shrimp dumplings, but the dumpling wrappers themselves were the fish balls, which were then stuffed with shrimp. The overall effect was decidedly, um, aquatic.

Fishy fish balls aside, it was a solid showing.

Previously in my search for the best (or least worst) Chinese food in Whitehorse:
New Oriental Restaurant, North Dragon Restaurant, and an introduction to the Quest.

Photo Friday: Nice Rack

18 03 2011

A bull moose rests on the side of the Alaska Highway near Fort Nelson, B.C.

Northern Reads: ‘The Magnetic North’ by Sara Wheeler

15 03 2011

Okay, so I’m supposed to focus on things I’ve actually read here, but I’m a little behind on my pile of books these days and I wanted to mention this recent release: The Magnetic North by Sara Wheeler.

Wheeler’s a well-known travel writer whose earlier book, Terra Incognita: Travels in Antarctica, made our list of the 100 Most Celebrated Travel Books of All Time over at World Hum, so I was anxious to hear about her new book tackling the other pole.

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