‘Tis the Season

Denali, taken from a friend’s place in late summer. [Northern Light Media photo]
I dropped this blog from my website back in June, knowing I wouldn’t have the time to update it during our busy Alaskan summer, and sure enough, it has been only recently that I’ve written new posts for my Northern Light Media website, three or four already in the past week or so. That’s the difference between Alaskan summers and going into our long winters. Summer is the time to explore, to fish and pick berries and to travel around just taking in the glorious beauty of our magnificent state, and I did all of those in abundance.

a-mighty-nice-place-coverFall and winter, on the other hand, are times for slowing down, gathering in, and reflecting on many things. Our lives, living in Alaska, those who lived here before us…. I recently finished editing a new* book, “A Mighty Nice Place,” which explores the Matanuska Colony Project history, and how that affected the lives of 200 midwest families, and the pioneers who were here before they arrived, and the legacies both groups left to those living in the Matanuska Valley today, as my family does. It’s a story I find endlessly fascinating, and will probably revisit again and again.

[*Note: “A Mighty Nice Place” combines two earlier titles, ‘The 1935 Matanuska Colony Project’ and ‘The Matanuska Colony Album,’ into one volume.]


Book Reviews

Screen Shot 2016-06-12 at 9.55.34 PMAuthors always love to see book reviews, and this author is no exception. With a dozen titles currently in print I’ve seen quite a few reviews, but I still smile when one crosses my path, as this review of my latest book, Alaskan Sled Dog Tales, did earlier this week. David Fox gave my book a very nice review for the Anchorage Press, writing: “Relying upon material written from the late 1890s through the early ‘30s, she catalogues how sled dogs provided Alaskan residents the ability to traverse enormous distances, deliver critical supplies and maintain communication from within and outside Alaska. The episodes she recounts are stirring, filled with human and animal bravery. Some are simply mind-boggling, filling the reader with awe and enormous respect for dog and driver alike.”

Ak SD Tales coverYeah, that nicely captures what I set out to do with this book! David Fox shares some examples from my book, and then leaves me grinning with his parting shot: “These trustworthy creatures could be relied upon to do the heavy work, while remaining—as Hegener eloquently reminds us—our most treasured friends.”

Did you see he used that grand word “eloquently?” The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines eloquent as “having or showing the ability to use language clearly and effectively; clearly showing feeling or meaning.”

I’m grinning all over again. Thank you, Mr. Fox!




Fireside Booksigning
Booksigning at Fireside Books, photo by David Cheezem, owner.

It’s always fun and interesting to take part in book-related events, and I always learn a little more about the history my books touch upon when people who are familiar with those histories – or who lived the history – introduce themselves and we strike up a conversation. That happened several times on Friday when I took part in a four-hour booksigning at my favorite bookstore, Fireside Books in Palmer, highlighting my books about the 1935 Matanuska Colony Project. Also there for the booksigning were several Matanuska Valley pioneers and Sharon Benson, the co-author of another great book, The Life and Times of Matanuska Valley Pioneers.

188. Ruth_Cook_colonist_taking_in_her_wash
Ruth Cook, Colonist, taking in her wash. Photo: Willis T. Geisman, 1935.

The history of Alaska and the Matanuska Valley are really nothing more than the compilation of individual stories, whether those stories are thrilling and adventurous or more mundane and everyday. Each person simply going about their daily lives contributed (and continue to contribute) to the whole which we know as history, and when people start talking about their own personal histories, or those of their family members, friends, or even just people they’ve known, the entire process of history-making is given a clarity which I always find fascinating and rewarding. It’s one thing to write about the design and construction of the Colony barns, but quite another thing to have someone tell about working in one, milking cows and loading hay into the hayloft one summer forty years ago.

189. Mr_Grant_Kensor_Kenser_filling_irons_with_gasoline_as_the_interested_children_1ook_on
Mr. Grant Kensor filling irons. Photo by Willis T. Geisman, 1935.

During the writing of my book on the Colony Project I was able to access the original records at the National Archives office in Anchorage. The office has now been closed, and the records have been moved to the National Archives office in Seattle. Toward the end of the day on Friday a young couple came into the bookstore and I learned that the young man’s parents had been Colonists, and sure enough, we found their name and tract number in my books. I explained about the original files for the Colony families being at the National Archives, which sadly had been moved to Seattle – and learned that the couple lived in Seattle and were only visiting friends in Palmer! They were very excited to learn how they could research their family’s history upon their return to Seattle!

The day after the booksigning I was walking around Palmer’s Colony Days celebration with my grandson Collin and was excited to see four of my books featured at the local museum and visitor’s center. Collin was patient with me in the museum, but it’s not hard to see that he was more than ready to get back outside to the “good stuff” again!

Collin and my books


Dog-Puncher on the Yukon

Dog-PuncherPeople sometimes ask which musher is my favorite – speaking of the old-timers, not my currently-racing friends. It’s a tough choice, as there were some amazing mushers in Alaska’s history (and I write about many of them in my newest book, Alaskan Sled Dog Tales), but one which is always near the top of my list is Arthur Treadwell Walden, author of “Dog-Puncher on the Yukon.” Here’s an article about him, and a great photo which I don’t remember seeing before:

Walden and Chinook

“Part adventurer, part showman Arthur T. Walden of Wonalancet, New Hampshire, dazzles the crowd with his sled dog Chinook at the Winter Carnival in Portland in this photograph published on the front page of the Evening Express on February 11, 1922, the same year that the intelligent, loyal canine led Walden’s team to victory in the first Eastern International Dog Derby, a 123-mile race. Then 5 years old, Chinook, bred from a mastiff stray and a descendant of Admiral Robert Peary’s Greenland husky Polaris, was on his way to becoming the most famous dog in America. His future achievements would include leading the first dog team ascent of Mount Washington, a treacherous undertaking that many had considered impossible.”

Read more at this link.



1947 Kobuk to KotzThose familiar with my online presence will know I’ve been following the recent situation which vaulted the Iditarod back into the news from the beginning. Not many know that I was following it before then, or that I had a small part in the progression of events which led to the current headlines. What happened was simple: A friend in Nome sent me an email on March 24 relating to the assault incidents in this year’s Iditarod, noting there was more to the story and stating that it “needs someone to to carry it forward,” meaning find a reporter willing to take on the research and write about it. The details were ugly, the backstory (which I was already familiar with) was alarming, and I figured Craig Medred would be the best person to “carry it forward.” He didn’t disappoint.

Bear typingI chose Craig from a number of talented and extremely competent friends in the media for two reasons. One, I knew he would not shrink from the subject matter. Two, I knew he was very familiar with the people and – more importantly, the personalities – involved. And three, I knew he had been over the route with a snowmachine and knew the trail and the communities and the locations. That third reason was important because the note from my friend in Nome had nothing to do with domestic violence, but concerned a third assault during this year’s race and the so-called “groping” of female mushers on the Iditarod Trail. The domestic violence situation sort of morphed out of the research done on the “groping” story, and I was happy to see both stories brought into the open by my friend Craig.

And now he’s working on other important and related issues.

Write on.




Social Media and the ITC Decision

ITC StatementI am heartened this morning by a unanimous decision from the board of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, particularly by the first paragraph (see photo), which recognizes domestic violence as a “serious societal issue.”

This is something which has been in the news frequently in the weeks since the race ended, and to see the ITC board address the issue squarely and unequivocally gives me hope. I smiled when a friend wrote to me privately, “hopefully this is a wake up call, the realization that social media has changed the game, information doesn’t act the way it did back in the day, you can’t control it, you need to get ahead of it.”

Social media has indeed changed the game, and while it has definite limitations and is often a source of frustration when used unthinkingly, I cannot help but believe the immediacy of sharing information, opinions, resources and more helped lead the ITC board to this decision. Social media is a double-edged sword, to be sure, but when used with thoughtfulness and wisdom it can be a powerful force for change.



Screen Shot 2016-04-29 at 9.09.34 AMI am not used to being fragile. I’ve been through car crashes, fallen off cliffs, thrown from horses, slipped on ice, and once had a mineshaft start collapsing while a friend and I were exploring, but all in all I’ve been lucky and have escaped major injuries in this lifetime. But two bad falls this week have left me sore and bruised and feeling rather shaken. Their sudden unexpectedness has left a grim reminder that we aren’t always in control of everything, and as they say, stuff happens.

cautionThe first accident happened in – of all places – the local emergency care facility. My grandson and I were waiting in the car for his mom, and after a while the little fellow needed to use their restroom, so we were making our way across the parking lot when an uneven spot in the pavement tripped me up and I went down, hard. That bruised both knees and my wrist, and all three are still sore several days later.

The second incident happened yesterday as the same grandson and I were shopping. He was being playful and dodging around me, I reached to grab him up, missed, and hit the floor sideways, landing on my shoulder. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but a couple of hours later I couldn’t raise my arm over my head, and by late last night there was an unmistakable ache telling me something got bruised or worse.

arnicaThis morning I am limping, gimping, and having trouble raising more than a coffee cup. Arnica is my friend, and I’m going to invest in a heating pad since I loaned all of mine to others in need many years ago. Meanwhile, there’s a quote by Mark Twain, one of my favorite authors, about accidents.

Screen Shot 2016-04-29 at 9.50.20 AMI only dimly remembered how it went, so I looked it up online: “There are no accidents, all things have a deep and calculated purpose; sometimes the methods employed by Providence seem strange and incongruous, but we have only to be patient and wait for the result: then we recognize that no others would have answered the purpose, and we are rebuked and humbled.” That quote is from “The Refuge of the Derelicts” published in Fables of Man, which was written in 1909. Knowing the context, I don’t think Twain had silly stumbling falls in mind when he wrote that, but no matter, it makes me feel better to think that perhaps there’s a reason for my accidents, even if it’s only message from the universe to slow down a tad.