BOOK REVIEW: 40 Years in the Wilderness
A review of the book, 40 Years in the Wilderness, by Dolly Faulkner
ALO's web site has a history of posting book reviews, and the recent release of Dolly Faulkner's 40 years in the Wilderness is a good reason to post another. Dolly and her family have been involved with ALO in many ways, in fact I made the book under a fake name (Martin, a trusted Bethel lawyer). Most of the living characters in this non-fiction account are given pseudonyms, but it is very simple for most folks in Western Alaska to determine the real names.
One gets the feeling that other than a few fake names, there is nothing phony about this thought provoking account from one of America's most remote inhabited sites. The Faulkner family has lived for many years at a homestead in the Kilbuck range, about 75 miles northeast of Bethel, near a hot-springs site. That description doesn't begin to describe the Faulkner spread however. I have never visited the site, but have flown over many times and have talked with many other visitors and family members. The site is known as White Bear Lodge, and it has witnessed events that would make the current deluge of Alaska reality shows on TV seem contrived, like most of them are.
A caution to anyone starting the book. Life for the Faulkners was rarely easy, and some of the stuff Dolly presents will make some readers uncomfortable. The book probably couldn't have been written before the death of Harry Faulker, Dolly's husband who passed away recently. She describes him in a way that raises the question why she remained married all these years, despite various acts of cruelty which are described fully . One senses that part of the reason is that Dolly is such a powerful woman that she wasn't going to give up on the life she wanted at White Bear no matter what.
Many will wonder if the accounts in this book could possibly be true. I have been involved with some of the events as a lawyer, and those events are accurately described. I have heard from other reliable witnesses of other events included in the book which suggest they are also true. The events sound true when read, and those of us who know Dolly would expect nothing but complete honesty from her.
So what's the big deal about living in the mountains for 40 years? It wouldn't be that difficult under ideal conditions but Dolly didn't have ideal conditions. White Bear is located where few travelers go, and when the weather is bad, it is virtually impossible to get there. The weather can be bad for long stretches. There is limited food available nearby, mainly a scattered population of moose and caribou. There is no fishable water. A short growing season produces some garden crops and berries. There are usually chickens. In fact, several Angstman chickens were transplanted there. But the sad truth is that food was often in short supply, in part because Harry, a pilot, didn't make it back for long periods of time. The previous book reviewed here, The Raven's Gift, talked of survival in western Alaska if supplies from the rest of the world were suddenly cut off. This book suggests if anyone were to survive such a situation, they would likely be named Faulkner and living at White Bear.
The book is very well written. I know nothing of Dolly's educational background, and the book says little about her life before Alaska. She home taught her children and they appeared to have been well served. But no one could have guessed that her first effort at writing would be so well done. Having spent most of life at her homestead, it is doubtful Dolly will be going on any publicity tours soon, although she did autograph many copies of her book at a recent Saturday market in Bethel.
One suspects this was a painful project for Dolly, but one that allowed her some comfort upon completion. The subjects of domestic violence, mental illness, suicide, jail and plane crashes do not bring a smile to many faces. But unburdening her mind of the many things that Dolly revealed in this book might have been the right thing to do. There are more stories, and Dolly will surely be urged to write them down in a sequel. This reader will be waiting.
To purchase Dolly's book, you can call Mosquito Books, 907-243-6016 and they will mail out. They don't take online orders.