I don’t know, Alaska
Monday October 06th 2014, 9:54 pm
Filed under: Life,Wildlife

When my daughter moved to Alaska I wished I knew more about the place and my brother-in-law suggested I read James Michener’s “Alaska.”

Being sick is a good time to catch up on reading and I am finally plowing through it, even if it’s as endless as the coastline of that state. I like that at the front he has a list of, this is historical, this is fiction.

But man oh man he drives me crazy. Describing the Great Hunt that nearly exterminated the species, I want  to tell him, river otters wouldn’t have seven foot long pelts, dude, are you crazy? They’re cute little things. It would be quite a stretch for sea otters for that matter. If you didn’t ever go to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, couldn’t you at least have cracked open an old-school encyclopedia? Then, oh oops, mid-chapter he switches the description of what they’re hunting to sea otter without mentioning it and river otters are never heard from again.

Wikipedia on Sea otters: here. 

And river otters: here.

History is his thing, and he does give a lot of it.

But Michener’s character development too has had me going Nah AH a few times and actually laughing out loud this evening. C’mon, how is this supposed to be believable? Sorry, but if a woman (an Aleut) was sold into slavery and then repeatedly (he describes it most delicately) gang-raped and beaten and later one of the thugs wants to marry her to keep him from being shipped to certain never-to-return well north of the Artic Circle, having her faint in ecstacy at the preaching of the Russian Orthodox priest, making it so she willingly saves her primary tormentor’s soul (after having gotten away from him for a good long time) by marrying him and entering a life of saved Christian bliss while with that conversion severing from her life the shaman who had been her life support through all her trials because he was of the wrong religion now–James, James, honey, it just ain’t happenin’ for me.

Haven’t gotten to the end of the chapter yet but she did turn her back on her people and did marry the evil man she’d so hated. I’m hoping for a better ending on that particular subplot.

But what Michener did do was make me want to go sort out more details on what actually did happen then between the Russians and the Aleuts and all the other countries that in the 1700s were trying to move in on the lucrative otter pelt trade while claiming territory.  Yes, the Russians did enslave and kill many of the Aleuts. Not just the animals.

Not only did they nearly exterminate a keystone species in the marine ecosphere, the author says that 70% of the otters the white man shot simply vanished down into the ocean before they could get to it, destroyed and gone.

Now that I believe.

We’re still working on recovering that species. We’ve got a ways to go. A bad die-off a few years ago made headlines when they said toxoplasmosis from house cats finding its way down to the coastline was the culprit, and they were working on it.

Well, that’s one for the history books.

1 Comment so far
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Maybe you’d like coming into the Country by John McPhee.

Comment by RobinM 10.07.14 @ 10:16 am

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