To Die:
An Autumn on
Alaska's Raincoast

Leon Kolankiewicz

    This position is stationed for several months in a remote field camp with few or no opportunities to return to town. Poorly heated tents, rainy, wet weather, floods, working on weirs in flood conditions, working in cold water with a wet-suit and snorkle, handling and tagging adult salmon, occasional heavy lifting of weir materials, biting insects and occasional contact with brown (grizzly) and black bears are all involved.
--- Job Announcement for the Alaska Dept. of Fish & Game.


This is the journal of the young man who took that job.

Leon Kolankiewicz, Cub Scout dropout, spent three months in the Alaska wilderness counting salmon returning to their native stream to spawn and die.

It's easy to identify with his anxiety when faced with the responsibility of accomplishing these daunting tasks, and his reference to those who "criticized his lack of common sense" is poignant rather than angry. Still, they clearly picked the right man. The book is a testament to the virtues of commitment, dedication, and yes, blooming common sense.

There are bear stories, of course --- how many bear stories do you want? He was living in the midst of a crowd of bears, browns and blacks and Ursus horribilis, or Grizzly Bears. Coming to terms with them demanded restraint on both sides, and produced some great stories. He may be the uncrowned king of campfire bull sessions.

Impressions of the author's wild surroundings are accompanied by descriptions of the primitive and difficult work and together, these reveal the author's growing confidence and maturity. Here are his thoughts as Autumn draws to a close:

    The pinks, chums and sockeye salmon have come and gone, and now the cohos are well into their last rites. The migrating waterfowl pass overhead daily, and some stop for the night on the lake. I am witness to nature's eternal rhythms...I have never asked for more out of this life.

And what traveler won't identify with these infrequently expressed emotions:

    All I felt at the thought of returning, now that it was upon me, was uneasiness and a vague sense of estrangement.

Classified as "Natural History," the book could just as well be called a coming-of-age story.

As Kolankiewicz' narrative shows, we come of age at different ages.

--- Cese McGowan


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