Walking Home: A Traveler in the Alaskan Wilderness, a Journey into the Human Heart
(Bloomsbury, May 2010)
Lynn Schooler had recently lost a dear friend and was feeling his marriage slipping away from him when he set out on a daring journey-first by boat, then on foot-into the Alaskan wilderness to clear his head. His solo expedition, recounted in Walking Home, is filled with the awe and danger of being on one’s own in the wild, being battered by the elements and even, for two harrowing days, becoming the terrified quarry of a grizzly bear.
But the formidable, lonely landscape is also rich with human stories-of trappers, explorers, marooned sailors, and hermits, as well as the myths of the region’s Tlingit Indians. Relating his journey, Schooler creates a conversation between the human and the natural, the past and the present, to investigate-on a remote and uninhabited shore-what it means to be not only part of nature’s wild web, but also a member of a human community in the flow of history.
“An outdoorsman ventures alone into remote territory. Schooler (The Last Shot: The Incredible Story of the C.S.S. Shenandoah and the True Conclusion of the American Civil War, 2005, etc.) narrates his journey along the western side of Mount Fairweather in Alaska, a trek that completed, in combination with earlier adventures, his circumnavigation of the mountain. An accomplished wilderness guide, the author builds a dramatic mood and some suspense into his tale with steady pacing and vivid scene-setting. He uses history and natural history to describe the enormously challenging elements that he faced—ice-filled bays to be entered from seaward, rivers to be forded, formidable, rocky terrain to be crossed, bears to be carefully and respectfully avoided. His descriptions of the terrain are peopled with indigenous tribes and earlier explorers and settlers, and even a 500-year-old body found in the ice. The tale is further enriched by pointed observations about the natural world, such as how various species of birds made it their home and what they must do to survive such extreme conditions. These notes are interesting but also serve to dramatize the tests that Schooler faced along his way, including an encounter with a grizzly that stalks him part of the way. Without sentimentality or self-pity, he also writes about personal losses and struggles that occurred before his journey and how they motivated him to set off into the wilderness in lieu of working on other pressing projects, including a partially finished house he was building for himself and his increasingly distant wife. A rich account of a man’s solo adventure into the wilderness, and what he learned about that place and himself.”