Thursday, May 26, 2011

Review: The Final Frontiersman by James Campbell

Reviewed by Ingrid

Published: 2004

It's about: The final frontiersman is Heimo Korth, a German-American who lives with his Eskimo wife and their two girls in the Alaskan Bush. James Cambell (Heimo's first cousin) follows them through the seasons as they cycle between their three cabins. Besides describing their day-to-day living, Campbell also writes about how Heimo came to Alaska in the first place, how he met his wife Edna while living among Eskimos on St. Lawrence Island, and how their little family came to be.

The Korth family (via)
I thought: Isn't that a great cover? Love that cover. This book fully lived up to my expectations. I was fascinated by all the little things the Korths had to learn to be able to survive hundreds of miles from civilization. I love survival books and I love Alaska! As opposed to the story of young idealist Christ McCandless in Jon Krakauer's Into the Wild, this book offers an example of a family living responsibly in the Alaskan bush ... which I found to be infinitely more fascinating and unique.

I also especially loved the parts about Eskimos and other Native Alaskans. Did you know that it is an ancient tradition on St. Lawrence Island for the Eskimo women to tattoo their faces? Awesome. I also spent a long time looking at photos of Heimo and Edna's kids ... I have an obsession with half Native Americans since my future kids will be half Navajo. Do you think half Eskimo, half Germans will look like half Navajo, half Scandinavian/English? Probably, right?

Verdict: Stick it right up on the shelf. 

Reading Recommendations: If you liked Into the Wild or any books about Alaska, you'll love this one.

Warnings: Animals are killed for food. I warned you.

Favorite excerpts:
The [Korth's] cabin is no larger than a conventional suburban kitchen ... necessarily small in a climate where heat is precious. Sitting on the bucket, I remember what bush pilot Kirk Sweetsir, who was raised in the Yukon River village of Ruby, 450 miles downriver from Fort Yukon, said about the Korths. 'You visit Heimo and Edna's place and their stuff amounts to nothing. Theirs is not a sedentary life. Their lifestyle reflects an awareness that life in the Arctic exists on the margin. Every season they move, and they understand that the key to surviving in the Arctic is living light.'  
...The cabin is comfortable, cluttered but clean and homey with one large window that faces south and captures the reluctant winter light and another small one, looking west. Space is at a premium, and nearly ever square foot has a purpose. Three sleeping platforms, each two and a half feet off the cabin floor, with curtains that can be let down for privacy, form a horseshoe around the perimeter of the cabin. Above the platforms is a storage loft, where books and most of the clothes are kept. Underneath the platforms, clothes, headlamps, pencils, pens, boots, books, and notepads lie scattered about the floor. Edna has decorated the walls of the cabin with the girls' artwork, and next to their sleeping platforms the girls have tacked up photos from teen magazines and splashy promotional shots of their favorite music stars. 

If you want a little taste of what the Korth family is all about, here is a great little documentary of them that is a little more recent:

Isn't Heimo AWESOME? He seems like an intelligent, stable, funny kind of guy.