What would the terrain have been like for Ivey's Lt. Col. Forrester and company?
From high points along the way the expedition group would have seen stunning views of the Copper/"Wolverine" River basin.
In the distance they would have seen some of the tallest peaks in North America.
Their path would frequently have been blocked by tributaries such as Liberty Creek shown here.
"Hmmm...one logistical issue after another!"
Journeying through the surrounding woodlands would not have been a whole lot easier for the men of the expedition.
Both Ivey's fictional and the real expedition party used the high ground to orientate themselves and no doubt, as my middle daughter did, took a minute to rest and marvel at the view.
Just as the Ahtna people did, my youngest daughter enjoys collecting sticks and using them to whittle and build her own bows and arrows.
The flatter places, such as this one further down Liberty Creek, certainly make for an easier crossing than the route my daughter chose above!
Both the real and the fictional explorers gained valuable assistance from the native people that they met along the Chitna/"Trail" River. These two rivers meet in a mighty convergence near a major Ahtna tribal fishing area along the Copper River.
Life was very difficult for the members of the expedition, but the land they explored was certainly stunning! To see how the modern modern First Nations people pull their food from the mighty Copper River, check out the next section.
Life in Alaska is no doubt easier now, but some things, such as the Ahtna people feeding their families through traditional methods of subsistence fishing for salmon, haven't changed much.
In July of 2011, my middle son and I took a midnight stroll. We found a couple of water routes leading from the airfield of the tiny town of Chitna down to an Ahtna fishing camp. The first one was drivable:
The second was just a series of planks across a much faster creek. Can I just say that I would not want to have to haul my catch of the day out along that route?
Down each route, we found fish wheels, a traditional method still used by the Ahtna for subsistence fishing for salmon. The drivable creek was criss-crossed with planks to make walking around the camp easier.
The camps included simple picnic tables and processing tables set close to the wheels.
Most of the wheels were accessed by planks, but one enterprising family used a railroad rail.
While we were there, a family came down to check their wheel and filet their salmon. The lady very kindly spoke to us a while. It had been a "pretty good day" as the wheel had brought in over ninety fish. Although her husband isn't Native Alaskan, they are still allowed subsistence rights, as she is Ahtna and they live on tribal land. Along to help them were her brother and brother-in-law. Their family runs their wheel for about three months each year and preserves their fish in many ways, from the most traditional method of smoking to the more modern canning in oil or freezing. Natives may share their catch with any family and with other Alaska Natives, but they are not permitted to sell any--either to other natives or to non-native people.
Fish wheels are works of art and engineering. Each one is different, as they tend to be cobbled together with whatever the family has on hand or can find.
We saw a number of wheels that had old highway and street signs on them.
We also found a couple of wheels that were built in the traditional fashion, using only natural materials.
This August, our family paid a visit to the Copper River, and we were amazed at how high the water was running! My husband took my picture with this ingenious wheel.
Its builder made clever use of a couple of grocery carts!
During our 2011 trip, we were there at the height of the season, in July. There were whole islands of fish wheels connected together in the middle of the Copper River, allowing their owners to walk from one to another all the way to the middle of the river.
Some wheels were close to shore as with those at the fish camps.
Both near shore and in the middle of the river, the wheels stretched almost as far as the eye could see.
During our trip this August, we stopped in at the visitor's center for Wrangell St. Elias National Park. I was delighted to see that they had an exhibit about the real-life inspiration for Eowyn Ivey's Lt. Col. Allen Forrester, Lt. Henry Allen. The exhibit also shared some great information about the river, the natives, and the history of the area.
This board showed where the Eyak people, the first group of natives that assisted the explorers, made their home and where the expedition truly began.
There was an excellent history timeline. I snatched a picture of the section that pertained to Ivey's book.
I was ridiculously excited to find a whole section of boards pertaining to a number of people who were central to the novel. The first of these was Lt. Henry Allen:
In addition to Allen himself there was a board for the Ahtna chief who clearly inspired the character of the Midnooski chief in Ivey's story.
And finally, there was even a board for the miners who helped the expedition until they discovered an area where they wanted to stake their claim--with all its ramifications for the history of our state and her native people.
I cannot say enough how much I loved Eowyn Ivey's newest book! The Snow Child was a lovely novel, but To the Bright Edge of the World was absolutely brilliant on so many levels. Again, if you would like to read my complete review, you can find it here.