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Kantner's Latest, 'A Thousand Trails Home,' is an Ode to Life Among Caribou

Kantner Thousand Trails Home.jpeg

Kantner will be giving a reading from “A Thousand Trails Home: Living with Caribou,” tonight (11/17) at 6 p.m. at the Homer Public Library. The in-person audience capacity is full up, but the reading will be simulcast on Zoom.

There are hallmarks of growing up in rural Alaska that are familiar to those who’ve lived in the Bush. There’s the long trips up- or down-river to the nearest village, learning the rhythms of nature, and hunting for your food. These are the stories that Northwest Arctic author Seth Kantner tells in his books, including “Ordinary Wolves” and “Swallowed By A Great Land.” His latest is, “A Thousand Trails Home: Living with Caribou.”

“It's just amazing to me that so many animals mess with you. Mice are chewing holes in your stuff and pooping on your table and bears are coming through whatever and squirrels like to take your insulation,” he said. “Think about caribou, they just don't mess with your stuff. They're good natured. They're always sort of providing and I wished I'd included that here's this animal that we just we count on so much. And unlike other animals we don't have to, you know, bar the door when we leave. They're not going to mess with your stuff. And so some of those things about caribou are trickling into my appreciation from writing the book.”

Kantner, who grew up in a sod home 20 miles from Ambler, was on Wednesday morning’s Coffee Table with Desiree Hagen. She asked Kantner to read a passage about learning from a friend that while wild animals all seem alike, some are true individuals (reading linked above).

“Took me a while to see what Bob meant about individuals. I had always been able to see trees that way; a birch bent and gnarled by snowdrifts, a spruce with limbs eroded by wind, and my sled dogs too, with their various proclivities. Wild animals took me longer. One spring while hunting for a goose for dinner. I came across a curious river otter. It swam around and then climbed onto the ice and peered into crack and dove down and came back up with a black fish. After it had three fish it picked them up and swam to me and dropped them a few feet away. The otter lay nearby in the sun napping waiting for me to eat my gift. I couldn't deny that he was different. No other otter had ever shared fish with me,” he said. “Later one fall on the tundra behind Kotzebue, I came across a caribou calf orphaned when a hunter shot its mother. A line of big bulls walked past ignoring the scared huddled calf. More bulls passed, and then one stopped. The big caribou walked back and stood over it. Finally, he urged the little calf to rise to its feet, and then slowly chaperoned it down the trail south.”

You can hear the full interview with Kantner from the Coffee Table online any time here.