REVIEW - ONLY KAYAK
Heacox, Kim, Only Kayak: A Journey into the Heart of Alaska. Lyons Press. Hardbound. 249 pages, 8 pages of color photographs. $24.95.
This book is part memoir, part Glacier Bay and kayaking, part John Muir and ecology, and all of it well written. Heacox does have a way with words. Of a kayak trip in the bay: "...we awoke in teal light to see a cruise ship passing by, a great floating city with its industrial hum and bright lights framed by mountains as bold as Godís soldiers."
He was a ranger at Glacier Bay, but soon wanted to be a photographer and free lance writer. Along the way he met the great wildlife photographer, Michio Hoshino, who became a good friend. Heacox is a man who develops solid friendships, from his most influential college professor, to a few men he met as a ranger, to his wife. He also enjoys guitars and the Beatles.
Glacier Bay continues to play a large role in his life, from the kayaking to the wildlife. He has some good stories, such as being sent to rid a small island of a bear that was terrorizing campers. He did not want to injure that bear or any bear. In fact, he quotes nature writer Richard Nelson, who riposted a scare bear article citing:"...is there more to wilderness brown bear hunting than the obvious trophy? There is, of course, the clear realization of eiether you killing the bear or the bear killing you." with the irrefutable: "More people die each year from potato salad than from grizzly bears."
Heacox is worried about the future of Glacier Bay, lamenting lost wildernesses Down South and afraid that development of the bay as a "tourist destination" will ruin it.
That is the paradox of wild places. If no one knows about them, no one notices when theyíre ruined. However, if photographs and books are published and the public can understand the marvels, then the public wants to visit and problems multiply. In todayís world the change can be swift. Cruise ships increase in size and capacity and airplanes can whisk travelers anywhere in a matter of hours. No longer does remoteness protect our wild places. In about ten years the Tatshenshini River that plunges from Canada into the Pacific went from an isolated experience to rafters having to take their turn. Itís now called the "Tat".
The author and his beloved wife now live in Gustavus and are supremely happy when not worrying about the encroaching commercialization of the bay.
Perhaps he should take solace in his observation that "Wilderness is on the map, but wilderness resides in that most wondrous and mysterious chamber, the human heart. You canít measure it any more than you can measure the music of a mountain stream, or the thunder of running caribou."
This reviewer finds it heartening that if conservationists do their job they will find an enormous public response. People do want clean water and air and yes, wild places to dream of visiting. We Alaskans have to do our bit.