Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Spotlight on Alaska Books: Dreaming Bears


For a while we watched expectantly. Then Volk and Ted broke out fishing rods. I dozed in the afternoon sun on the bank of the East Fork of the Chandalar River, now fifty or sixty miles above the Arctic Circle. Ted and Volk were looking intently upriver when I awoke.

“Johnny Frank coming,” Stanley announced. Across the swift main channel, a small man stood in a little green canoe. He wore an old tweed coat, shirt, and tie. He paddled into the current and was propelled rapidly downstream, balancing as he ferried toward our bank. He swept past us, intently watching the water, a pipe clenched in his teeth, his dark face shaded by an old-style peaked Stetson hat. We rushed down to the river and caught the boat as it came to shore. A smile broke across the man’s face as he stepped onto the bank.

This is the true story of the rare friendship that develops between a young medical student with deep roots in the South and an elderly Indian couple in the wilds of northeast Alaska. In 1961, Mike Holloway, his brother Ted, and a college friend set out from South Carolina to spend the summer hiking in arctic Alaska, intending to live off the land. They end up in the homeland of the Gwich’in – the northernmost Indians in North America. The young men charter a small plane into the isolated village of Venetie, and are directed to the remote cabins of Johnny and Sarah Frank, an elderly Gwich’in couple who lived a thirty-five mile walk from the village. Johnny was a well-known storyteller and former medicine man. Sarah made their home welcoming with warm, calm kindness – her well-worn hands seldom idle.

Mike’s rich encounters in Gwich’in country deepen his love of wild land and his respect for those who depend upon it for their survival. The experience alters his life. He becomes the adopted grandson of Johnny and Sarah, returning to Alaska as a doctor and an advocate for the land and its people.

“We won’t be seeing stories like this anymore, this remarkable real-deal first-person account of two generous and wry Indian elders who were still living out in the Brooks Range wilderness in the 1960s.” Tom Kizzia.

“Reading Holloway is like a long talk around the campfire with a new friend.”
Sharman Apt Russell, author of Hunger: An Unnatural History

“The next best thing to hunting bear … with an elderly Alaskan Gwich'in named Johnny Frank may be to read about it, and much more, in J. Michael Holloway's captivating Dreaming Bears.” 

Mike Holloway was born in South Carolina, but a trip to Alaska in 1961 and his introduction to two savvy Gwich’in elders redirected his life.  After completing medical studies in the South, he returned to Alaska, spending his professional career as an orthopedic surgeon with the Alaska Native Health Service. In 1977 Mike took a break from orthopedics to work as a subsistence advocate and Washington D.C.-village liaison for the Alaska Rural Community Action Program. He returned to work at the Native hospital and served some years as Chief of Orthopedics. He retired in 2001 when diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.  In the next eight years he taught orthopedics, primarily in Africa with Health Volunteers Overseas. Mike and his wife Margie Gibson live in a cabin near Indian, Alaska. He is a member of 49 Writers. Dreaming Bears is published by Epicenter Press in a softcover edition with color photos.


1 comment:

Lynn Lovegreen said...

Sounds like a great book-- I must find this! :-)