I met author Mary Lovel on the Alaska Railroad. I was on the way to Anchorage from Fairbanks when she boarded the train from her homestead in Sherman. The captain introduced her to the passengers as a local author who had published two books about setting up a homestead in Alaska. (https://vickychong.wordpress.com/2013/01/02/amazing-alaska-all-aboard-the-alaskan-railroad-arr/)
This book chronicles the Loval’s family’s move from Missouri to Alaska in 1963. To pack four young children and drive all the way to Alaska in a truck and trailer house from the US mainland to Alaska via Canada seems like a desperate move to me, especially when you leave behind close family support. Unfortunately, the book did not give any reason to the move but Mary hinted that she had not been in favour and that it took a few years to accept the idea.
The drive was rough with frequent truck breakdowns but the repairs were something that the Lovals could handle. At that time in the sixties, it took them five days just to get from Missouri to Nebraska, keeping in mine that their total journey was 4900 miles.
The book was an easy read and describes how upon arrival, they managed to settle in a remote homestead. On top of being a single parent most days as her husband was working in town, Mary had to hunt, homeschool her kids, farm during the summer months, make furs, can meat and pickled fruits.
Living in the wilderness in mostly wintry months means learning how to shoot a moose, porcupine and other animals for meat. Shooting was the easy part. Imagine skinning and chopping the carcass so that you could transport it home and store it. I didn’t even know porcupine can be eaten!
Dogs were essential not as pets but as guard dogs as well as mushers to transport meat, logs and other heavy stuff on the snow. Thus if the dogs were not useful to the family, they were immediately given away to save on feeding them.
Summer meant fishing for salmons and picking berries, other than farming. Reading about these exotic activities makes me wish I had visited Alaska during the summer.
The book gives us an idea of how modern homestead living is like. The author went about her life without gripes or complaints about the hard living. Instead, she talked about what she looked forward to, like her visiting relatives, and offering her hospitalities to strangers who visit.
If anything, being lonely must be her only laments living so far from civilization, especially since her husband was never around. To get over that, the affable woman often opened her house to visitors. The visitors, in turn, repaid her by helping her with the chores around.
I enjoyed reading the book, probably because I had just returned from Alaska and the story gave me an insight to the history of ordinary Alaska residents.
Mary Loval had also written a sequel called, ‘Suddenly It’s Spring’ which was sold out when she met me. Perhaps the next book would be an incentive for me to visit Alaska in Spring.