BOOK REVIEW - ALASKANA Northern Lights

Bryson, George, text and photographers Calvin Hall and Daryl Pederson. NORTHERN LIGHTS. Sasquatch Press. 128 pp. 100 col. photos Softbound $19.95.

It seems rather silly that there are so few books on the Aurora Borealis, but until recent years and the development of high-speed photography and true-color reproduction, most pictures looked like smoke or a pale imitation of the actual thing. So the seeker of a book had few choices.

Search no more. This book, done by long time Alaskans, combines some good research and writing with truly spectacular photographs. Hall had over 20 years of auroral pictures to choose from, and these are his finest.

Bryson did a great deal of research to justify the sub-title "The Science, Myth, and Wonder of Aurora Borealis". Heís talked with the scientists who are working on deciphering the phenomenon and can tell us what causes the fireworks that can be seen in some years thousands of miles from their origin, what makes the different colors, and in general enable the reader to sound scientific when questioned by the dinner crowd.

The historical views of the lights, from the Greeks and Romans to Aristotle and Galileo and Descartes, great thinkers on the subject, as well as ordinary citizens who suddenly got religion and repented of their sins when the ghostly lights appeared over Europe, provides a fine tour of the lights and humans. Moving to recent times, thereís a discussion of the Aurora that may have caused a commercial airplane crash in the Wrangell-Mt. St. Elias Range. Some of the traditional beliefs of Alaska Natives, the people who know the aurora best, are also included.

The best part of this timely book (could they have known of the superb displays this winter?) is the connection for Alaskans. The time and place and circumstances surrounding the most interesting pictures is identified, which does lead to the one fault. All the pictures are from the Anchorage and Fairbanks areas. They do have wonderful lights, but it would be interesting to see if Barrow has anything different. David Pazar could show them Southeast has some fine views as well.

This reviewer was left with one question. Scientists have shown the aurora is so high above the earth it only seems to be behind a hill or mountain and there are no sounds associated with it that we can hear. But, er, um, not only do Alaska Natives speak of the whistling noise, but it was common for early Arctic explorers to write of occasionally hearing noises they refer to as "rustled silk" or "crumpling tissue paper" or other similes suggesting the same thing. So, how about it, researchers? Itís actually nice to think science still has mysteries, and what better mystery than those glorious lights that enliven northern and southern polar winters?

Overall, if the subject interests you at all, this is the book to have.

D. L.

Rearden, Jim, JIM REARDENíS ALASKA: Fifty Years of Frontier Adventure. Epicenter Press. Softbound. 283 pp plus index black & white photo illustrated. $17.95

Jim Rearden is a well-known Alaskan outdoor writer, so itís no surprise this is a book about well, outdoor adventures in Alaska.

However, in a charming preface, Rearden also gives us a thumb-nail sketch of his life and how he got into the outdoor writing business (this is his 17th book). The rest of the book, with the exception of two chapters on World War II adventures in the Aleutians, centers on famous guides, survival stories, and colorful people like "Moose" Johnson, a trapper on the Kenai famous for his bad luck with moose. Wolverines and sea otters have their turn and so do the Russians on a mercifully short chapter on the history of Russian America (as an historian Rearden is a good outdoor writer).

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