Before we begin, grab a map. Preferably the paper kind; the old atlas that's been on your shelf for years or the AAA guidebooks your grandmother gave to you. Google Maps will do, in a pinch.
Flip to Alaska. Now look up—up, up, higher up. Do you see Barter Island? Between Barrow (the farthest North American City) and the Canadian border, it sits near the mouth of the several meandering rivers. That is where we are headed.
The journey begins in Kaktovik, Alaska. Perched at the northeastern tip of the state, Kaktovik is the jumping-off point for adventurers rafting down the Hulahula River. It is well within the Arctic Circle, a hauntingly beautiful backdrop for a June river trip, perfect for spotting Dall Sheep and musk ox against the Brooks Range Mountains.
Shannon Huffman Polson is in Kaktovik with her adopted brother Ned and his colleague Sally, preparing to retrace the trip taken a year earlier by her father and stepmother. It will be both tribute and quest: Richard and Kathy Huffman were killed by a grizzly bear before they could finish their expedition.
Polson has returned for "a journey over the jagged edge of loss." Her maps, like ours, can only get her so far. The rest of the way will require courage and commitment over rocky terrain.
"I lived for his attention," Polson writes about her father in North of Hope: A Daughter's Arctic Journey. Polson's parents divorced when she was twelve years old, a move that shattered her life and those of her two brothers. Her father remarried several years later and Polson fought Kathy for his time and attention. Above all else, this is a book about fathers and daughters: the trappings of that relationship, the desperate wanting for ...