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Northern Lights & Shadows: Sixteen Years in the Alaska Bush by Lee Basnar

Northern Lights & Shadows: Sixteen Years in the Alaska Bush

by Lee Basnar

336 pages
Surviving bears. blizzards, and bush flying in the Alaska wilderness.

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Category: Autobiography
About the Book
Author Lee Basnar and his wife Joan lived in the Alaska bush for sixteen years. His book, Northern Lights and Shadows, illuminates a lifestyle few Americans have experienced.

The book describes how they built their cabin in lake-spotted remote Alaska. Lee runs a trapline, learns to fly, and wanders through wilderness. The Basnars subsist on wild game and berries, and they smoke and preserve fish caught in nearby streams.

Whether Lee is piloting his bush plane, they are breaking trail on snowshoes, driving snowmachines through blizzards, skiing under the northern lights, or confronting bears and wolves, the couple's respect for Alaska's stunning natural world is unmistakable.

Bears are a part of their lives, along with wolves, moose, swans, loons, foxes, and other wildlife species. When caribou trigger a landslide that buries part of the herd, Basnar is flying over the scene. When grizzlies attack and kill moose and caribou, he records the details. His observations offer a different image of wolves, an animal revered and feared.

The author describes coping with the many challenges their lifestyle presents. His appreciation for wilderness and the animals that depend on it grows throughout the book, and he realizes that trapping animals is something he and the furbearers can live without. He observes the greed and carelessness that threaten wilderness, and the book follows his conversion from hunter and trapper to conservationist.

In his ski plane in winter and floatplane in summer, the pilot roams Alaska's skies. He lands on remote lakes and stands on the plane's floats, casting for arctic grayling or rainbow trout while drifting with the breeze. Miles from the nearest human, he routinely sets up camp and explores the wilderness alone, taking time to read books and write poetry. His years of bush flying hone his pilot skills, and he survives some terrifying experiences when wind and rain blast his small plane with the force of a fire hose.

When a bear tries to crawl in through their cabin window, Joan rings a bell inside while Lee rushes outside and shoots over the bear's back. The bear refuses to leave, presenting a significant obstacle to completing the necessary trips to the outhouse.

On another occasion, four grizzlies stroll up to the cabin, and the author and one of the bears come face to face after the bear family splits up. The author describes their many animal encounters and other incidents with intensity, clarity, and self-deprecating humor.

The pain of frostbite, the agony of spring breakup, and the tough labor of backpacking the meat from a 1,000-pound moose are offset by the joy of watching sunrise transform Denali - America's' highest peak - into something surreal.

Descriptions of a chimney fire; the flavor of moose meat; the growl of a grizzly; the numbing, sub-arctic cold; and the wilderness they share with their wild neighbors combine to place readers in remote Alaska. Northern Lights and Shadows describes real people living in a setting that surpasses that of any scenery contrived by Hollywood.



About the Author
Lee Basnar Lee and Joan Basnar spent sixteen years in an Alaska bush cabin. They subsisted on fish and game; he ran a trapline; was a bush pilot; operated a woodworking business; and wrote for magazines, including Alaska Magazine.

Lee is now a columnist for the Sierra Vista (Arizona) Herald/Bisbee Daily Review.



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