Coming Into the Country

Coming Into the Country

by John McPhee

This is the story of Alaska and the Alaskans. Written with a vividness and clarity which shifts scenes frequently, and yet manages to tie the work into a rewarding whole, McPhee segues from the wilderness to life in urban Alaska to the remote bush country.

  • Language: English
  • Category: Nonfiction
  • Rating: 4.22
  • Pages: 448
  • Publish Date: April 1st 1991 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Isbn10: 0374522871
  • Isbn13: 9780374522872

What People Think about "Coming Into the Country"

After fifty years of endless night, dawn finally broke over Alaska! In the early 70s, the Prophet McPhee came to Alaska. The priests he spoke to all agreed: it was the Mother of Grizzlies, Daughter of Alaska, the great Messiah-Queen of the prophecies who would restore the mighty Alaskan Empire to glory and lead Her armies out of the North to conquer the Lower 48. The Return of the Sun had marked the hour of Her birth, but none had seen sign of Her since. And so the Prophet McPhee vowed to find Her. Assembling a party of shamen, slaves (bearing gifts of gold, jewels, and newspapers), and mages from the Bureau of Outdoor Recreation, the Department of Fish and Game, and other government agencies, McPhee set out into the widerness. Juneau was not grand enough, and Anchorage and Fairbanks still lay in ruins from the war, so the Prophet McPhee again set out into the wilderness, again with his shamen and slaves and government bureaucrats, to find a suitable place to build Her Palace. And again the shamen were eaten by wolves, and the bureaucrats bickered, and the slaves revolted, so McPhee went back to Juneau. McPhee apparently never found the Mother of Grizzlies, and left Alaska in disgrace.

I learned the difference between a visitor and a tourist in Alaska: A tourist stays a week and drops four hundred dollars. I learned that Alaska is a great place for nicknames: Pete the Pig, Pistolgrip Jim, Groundsluice Bill, Coolgardie Smith, Codfish Tom, Doc LaBooze, the Evaporated Kid, Fisty McDonald, John the Baptist, Cheeseham Sam, and the Man with the Big Nugget. I learned that Alaska, at least the Alaska of 1977, was a place where people, tired of government and other people, fled to. This was another wonderful trip that John McPhee took me on.

It's divided into three sections; in the first, McPhee wanders around unpopulated Alaska with several other men in several canoes/kayaks. The second section was about the attempt to get Alaska's capital moved from Juneau. At the end of the section it really sounded like the move was going to come off; people voted and wanted the capital moved to Willow. They don't like the people of the lower 48 dictating the rules in Alaska. Alaska is different. If the Bureau of Land Management comes to tell me I don't own my home, then we have a problem.

For a change of scene, I signed up with some friends to work the salmon season at a cannery in Alaska. The cannery was located on an island in the southeast of the state. If my sense of it had faded some over the past twenty years, McPhees wonderful book has helped to revive it. My former favorite of McPhees books (among those I have read) was Basin and Range, but Coming into the Country is just as good. In this small but broadly scattered and loose-knit community, McPhee finds all the hope, discontent and anxiety of the human condition.

The chapter "Coming Into The Country" (nearly half of the book) on the Yukon River/Charley River area of Interior Alaska was by far the best part of the book, focusing on the communities of Central, Circle, and Eagle and the idealistic, sometimes hard-nosed characters that live there. Although McPhee, in what I've read, was an impressionable young man leaning to the side of environmental conservation at the expense of economic development, I think his writing in this book shows both a reverence for Alaska's brand of wilderness (in a word, awesome) as well as a sympathetic, humane perspective on the toll that Congressional protectionism, environmental regulation, and romantic idealism has on the lives of real families living in "the country".,_A... Tony's is the review to read:

Despite the overall high quality of writing, I found that some parts dragged (I found myself skimming dozens of pages related to a possible shift of Alaska's capital city from Juneau to parts unknown).

If we have cansdevilled ham, Spamwe burn them, until all hint of their contents is gone.Please, don't burn garbage while camping.

'There has been a host of excellent books on Alaska. They enjoy schussing down snow-covered mountains at 96 feet/second through trees and around boulders only to screech to a stop, stand up and walk away, just before going -over the edge of a cliff. The second part of the book discusses the Alaskan government's search for a new capital and the conflict that generated. Whereas before statehood someone could build a cabin 80 miles from nowhere, now a government helicopter might fly over and throw them out.

McPhee divided his exploration of Alaska into three sections--the first, stage-setting section on the northern tree line; the second, uses the search for an ideal site for a new state capital to explore urban Alaska; and the final section, on "the bush," really focuses on the motives and lifestyles of in-migrants to the state. While his book does not gloss over their less admirable qualities--a tendency toward paranoia, chaos, alchoholism, and particularly misogyny--he comes down firmly for their willingness to pit themselves against nature.

Both Encounters with the Archdruid and The Curve of Binding Energy were nominated for National Book Awards.