Midnight Sun, Arctic Moon: Mapping the Wild Heart of Alaska by Mary Albanese

Midnight Sun, Arctic Moon: Mapping the Wild Heart of Alaska Reviewed by Caryn St. Clair

While the summer heats up across the country, readers looking for an easy escape from the heat need go no further than Mary Albanese’s memoir of her time in Alaska titled, Midnight Sun, Arctic Moon: Mapping the Wild Heart of Alaska. Born and raised in upstate New York, all Mary wanted to do was to see the world. When she finished her undergraduate degrees in Earth Science, Environmental Studies and Art, plus teaching certificate in Science Education, Mary thought she’d be a shoo in for a teaching job in Alaska. After all, she’d read they were desperate for teachers. But when school districts passed on her application because she was from New York- a state that had earned a reputation for no shows up north, Mary set out on her own to find a way to move to Alaska. Given that she obviously enjoyed school (see above degrees), she decided to apply to master programs in Alaska in both Education and Geology. When she was accepted into both, she headed north to make her choice and start her new life. All of this takes readers only twenty pages or so into the two hundred plus page book.

Starting with her first impressions of Alaska as she steps off the plane some thirty years ago, readers are treated to an insider’s look at Alaska like none other. Sent almost immediately out to the Brooks Range, Mary begins to show readers exactly how brutal the far North’s climate can be-even in the summer. That really sets the tone for the entire book-the breath taking beauty of the untamed versus the harsh reality of facing the elements day in and day out and doing it with no back up support. Her geological expeditions took her into areas so remote they had never been mapped and miles-in some cases hundreds of miles-from help of any kind. Any mistake or misjudgment up here could mean your life. This is brought home to readers very early on in the book when Mary literally has to drag, carry and bribe a fellow student six long miles back to camp when the man was succumbing to hypothermia and wanted to lie down and go to sleep. As it turns out, that episode was mild compared to what laid ahead for Mary over the years. And yet, that very ruggedness seemed to be the very attraction for a number of quite colorful, “living on the edge” characters readers meet.

There are two things that really make this book. The author’s mantra for life “If at first you don’t succeed, try something that’s harder,” was seen in her decisions throughout the book. Not many readers would be willing to do even a fraction of the things Albanese attempted. Secondly, the description of the far north is just breathtaking. I’m sure that as the years have passed, some of the wildness of the state north of Fairbanks has been lost, but because of the harsh environment, hopefully it will forever be America’s last Frontier.

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