Raven’s Witness: The Alaska Life of Richard K. Nelson
A one-year research job in Alaska changed the career direction Richard Nelson had intended. As he entered college, after a less than stellar high school record, his plan to study desert reptiles was transformed into life in Alaska. His year in Wainwright is arguably one of the best sections of Hank Lentfer’s Raven’s Witness. Right away, Nelson began to absorb the essential, complex skills needed to live in a remote region of the United States, among these how to build a sled and a boat and how to train a team of dogs and hunt caribou and seals. These he learned from a community whose daily life was entrenched in the indigenous culture.
He returned to the lower forty-eight, earned two advanced degrees and as a cultural anthropologist headed back to the far north, to live in a series of small towns and rural settings where over the years he penned a succession of well-received natural history books. Often in lyrical style, they drew together down to earth details and fascination for traditional Alaskan lifestyles and philosophy He recognized the significance of tribal taboos and beliefs, learning from friends who followed the pattern of their forbears. In particular, one elderly chief showed him the importance of luck, how it supplied an inherent advantage, but how its absence could be responsible for failure, even disaster.
Hank Lentfer has enriched his narrative with lines from Nelson’s books and journals. As a result, the reader may enjoy a double blessing, a fine biography, and a memorable introduction to an exceptional man.
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