Tide, Feather, Snow

IN RESPONSE TO AMERICAN TRANSIENCE, writers like Wendell Berry and Mary Oliver describe the rewards of a lifelong apprenticeship to a place. We rarely encounter books that show how those who wander, ending up thousands of miles from their birth places, inhabit a chosen landscape, a heart’s home — and how they do that humbly, bravely. In her first book, Tide, Feather, Snow, Miranda Weiss chronicles her own “coming into the country,” not as a visitor, but as a novitiate. She asks: What does it take to earn the right to call Alaska home? What does it take to claim a bay, a shoreline, a community as home?

Weiss shares a few commonalities with Chris McCandless, the tragic subject of Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild. She grows up on the East Coast and is educated at East Coast universities. She travels north as a young woman, leaving family, friends, known terrain, familiar language, landing at the end of a road in Alaska. She arrives carrying dreams of wilderness in her wide-open eyes. Like McCandless, over the course of her story — eight Alaskan seasons (he lasted only one) — she faces herself, and what she finds is both transcendent and troubling. But that’s where the resemblance ends. Unlike McCandless, Weiss survives. She knows what she’s up against. She earns her home in Alaska by listening, observing, naming, skinning, gutting, hammering, and ultimately respecting the huge unknown before her. What we learn as we follow Weiss through her difficult apprenticeship is that it takes a lot to truly inhabit a place, to be taken by it.

Open to any page, and you’ll find a sentence like this: “Out on the bay, you could see these things: the curiosity of sea otters, the leisure of gulls. You could witness how birds lived, how the bay slowly gyred, and how the sea was a seamstress and kelp its thread.” Weiss’s story carries you forward while her prose slows you down, each phrase as surprising as the tide pool or moose track it describes. You’ll want to don your rubber boots, your chest waders, your spray skirt. You’ll want to savor each word, the way she does. “Skiff, skiff,” she repeats, memorizing its feel in her mouth. She has to absorb this language, into her mind, into her body; that’s the point.

Weiss is fearless. She walks into her Alaskan life essentially alone, senses awake, mind curious, carrying questions we need to ask if we’re to truly inhabit the places we call home.

Eva Saulitis was intitally trained as a marine biologist and has studied the killer whales of Prince William Sound, Kenai Fjords and the Aleutian Islands and is the author and co-author of numerous scientific publications. Dissatisfied with the objective language and rigid methodology of science, she later turned to creative writing – poetry and the essay – to develop another language with which to address the natural world. Saulitis’ most recent book publications include Into Great Silence: A Memoir of Discovery and Loss among Vanishing Orcas (nonfiction), Many Ways to Say It (poetry), and Leaving Resurrection: Chronicles of a Whale Scientist (nonfiction). Her essays and poems have appeared in numerous literary journals, including Crazyhorse, Prairie Schooner, Quarterly West, Northwest Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, Sow’s Ear Poetry Review, Cimarron Review, Carnet de Route, Seattle Review, and Kalliope. She lives in Homer, Alaska, where she teaches creative writing at Kenai Peninsula College, at the Kachemak Bay Writers’ Conference, and in the Low-Residency MFA Program of the University of Alaska Anchorage.