Life is a story, a song, and for some who are brave, an epic poem


Jason Barron crossing Rainy Pass, 2004 Iditarod

When I sat down to write my 2010 novel Ballad of the Northland, I was consumed with the need to tell a story that encompassed a piece of my youth growing up in the wild Alaskan backcountry, expressed my feelings about the mythological nature of competitive distance dog mushing, and demonstrated my awe of Alaska and all of the regions that we think of as the “northland.”

…They dropped for a time both elastic and without measure, and at last came out of the hills and crossed over to the sea ice. Somewhere ahead, surely only a handful of miles, lay the village of Shaktoolik. The dogs moved slowly in the maelstrom, leaning their bodies windward and scrambling to hold their footing whenever the ice became too slick to stand and the wind blew them off of the trail. They followed some kind of embankment on their left, working their way over sloping shoulders of drifted sand and jumbled piles of driftwood like the bones of ancient beasts, and finally were stopped altogether, blown across an expanse of polished blue ice and into a stand of brush on the far side of a shallow lagoon. The Boy lunged from the runners and went down on his face; without his weight on the runners, the sled flopped over and the lid of the sled bag flew open and a mess of gear and supplies flew out and tumbled away. He flailed to his knees and crawled to where his dogs were tangled around a copse of alder….

I’ve lived in the bush for much of life; I’ve mushed dogs competitively since I was a small child, an odyssey that has colored my perception of the world and given me the language to strike the words down on the paper as surely as if I reached through this computer screen, grabbed you by the scruff of the neck and thrust you into the bag of my sled on a run from Kaltag bound for Unalakleet while the stars spun over our heads and the wind wailed through the pass to meet us head-on and the only thing standing between us getting to where we were going, or not, was a team of heroic dogs leaning into their tugs and moving the world with their paws…

Jason Barron crossing Fairwell Lake, 2008 Iditarod

…The lights of Puntilla Lake spun beneath him like a collection of iridescent pearls circling a drain, became dim, vanished. The wind roared from out of the blinded steppes with a kind of bludgeoning madness, and the cold was like something from a nightmare, clawing and raking to get at the core of him. Unnoticed, his face was blasted into peeling strips and his teeth were frozen in their sockets. His heart thundered against his breastbone like it was charged with adrenaline and his lungs sucked at air so cruelly frigid that it burnt going down like lit sulfur. Unbidden, an image of his Papa being erased by that long ago storm came into his mind, a tall and broad shouldered figure carrying their last bit of light into that hungry vast. The Boy’s laughter was a thing of crippled madness, whipped away from his frozen lips before he could even consciously recognize its lunatic presence. And still they climbed, between granite snow capped peaks that raised yet further to pierce the bellies of the clouds, unseen in the dark, but felt like the existence of a great hulking creature ready to pluck them from the face of the world. The trail wound them through a sudden forest of standing boulders and the rough ridges of exposed feldspars….

When it came time to write, I poured it all out, the only way I knew how.

Thanks for tuning in–more to follow….

Images courtesy of Jeff Shultz; Excerpts taken from the novel Ballad of the Northland

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