Jacket credit: goodreads.com
Having read the book, I’d have chosen a different title---In the Heart of Nowhere. It is a true story about the author’s life in Alaska around the turn of the last century. It is about a man able to not only survive, but make a living off the land and support his family in the face of unlimited challenges and with little more than a rifle and a belt axe.
Again, I was shocked to see that our local librarian had been able to find such a book for me here in Oklahoma. It’s great that she indeed was able to find a canoeing book in a land where water barely exists, but indeed, what was at the same time so disappointing was that the last time the book was checked out was in 1971. Now that is a bloody shame. This is a book that should be required reading for every student in high school. It is not only a breathtaking book and non-stop adventure that they would enjoy, but it is about fortitude and perseverance, and making one’s way in life. While kids cry about being bored, and that they can’t survive without every trinket and gizmo, they need a little truth about making a go at life with nothing---with nothing and against seemingly impossible odds. The kids need this, but it wouldn’t hurt adults to read it as well. As written in the forward by Lowell Thomas, this autobiography “makes life and all its problems look incredibly insignificant for most of us.”
The book is packed with action that exceeds the stories of Jack London. London probably wouldn’t have added much of this in a novel because the stories would have made a novel unbelievable. In this case, the truth is indeed stranger than fiction. The author is a half-breed who had to come to terms with that label. His mother was Athabasca Indian and his father white. His mother had already made local history by traveling a thousand miles across the Arctic tundra in the depth of winter alone and on foot, and surviving. Later, at the age of seven and one of three small children, he awakes in an ice-cold cabin and comes downstairs to find his mother dead and hanging halfway out the door. His father is gone on the trapping trail. He must survive and keep his brother and infant sister alive as well. To survive as he grows, he starts trapping and hunting. He runs dog sleds, and later became one of the most noted dog sled racers in Alaska. He ended up in a hand-to-hand battle with three bears simultaneously with nothing but a belt axe, having had one bear snatch his rifle out of his hands. He is tracked by a timber wolf and suddenly realizes he is surrounded by 20 wolves just waiting for the pack leader to make his move. He knows he can’t run, but he’s armed with nothing but a single-shot .22.
Okay, you just need to read the book. It is one you will always remember. His brother, Sidney Huntington, also wrote a book about their lives. It is called “Shadows on the Koyukuk: An Alaskan Native’s Life on the River.” Some feel that James’ is the better of the two autobiographies, both are worthy of your time.