BOOK REVIEW The Coldman Cometh
Durr, Bob, "The Coldman Cometh: a Family's Adventure in the Alaska Bush". Thomas Dunne Books, St. Martin's Press. Hardbound. 304 pages. Small black-and-white photos at chapter headings. $24.95.
Why would a tenured university professor from New York State take his wife and four young children to live outside of Dillingham, Bristol Bay, Alaska? The short answer is: it was the 60s. The move wasn't as abrupt as it sounds; Durr had spent four summers commercial fishing in the area before the move. He speaks about his attempt to wipe out the horrors of alcohol in Dillingham by preaching the virtues of cannabis.
So yes, an educated hippie brought his
family to Alaska. However, they seemed to thrive on life in the Bush, although
they had to move from the first home cabin when they were told by the state
that the land was not only not free, they had settled illegally. So they went
over to Lake Iliamna, thence to Chinitna Bay off Cook Inlet and finally to Talkeetna,
where they remain. Along the way they made a number of friends, met a lot of
eccentric people, many of whom became friends, and generally enjoyed themselves.
That is when they coined the Coldman - the terrible winter cold that came regularly.
Of course there were the sorrows of Bush
living. People drowned or froze to death, Durrs's cabin and possessions burned,
and often money was tight. But the author writes with undiminished zest about
all sorts of adventures: a wild picnic at the truly wild Walrus Islands in Hagemeister
Strait where the weather turned sour and the family green, their pink-and-blue
set-netting site on Chinitna Bay, and the long family war games of Monopoly
And what about their life today? Sadly,
the wife died of cancer in 1996, but the sons and one daughter still live in
Talkeetna and the other daughter visits from Oregon when she can. The family
is still close-knit, and overall seems very happy they have spent most of their
lives in the wild.
The one odd bit to the outsider is the
pleasure Durr takes in his new and powerful snowmachine, the handy chainsaw,
handiness of the road system, and other modern conveniences. After so many pages and descriptions of the joys of living close to the land,
this celebration of technology jars a bit. On the other hand, since
he's getting older he's discovering machinery isn't all bad.