Mabel and Jack moved to Alaska to escape from their sorrows in Pennsylvania, perhaps underestimating the potential toll that living in the wilderness might take on their bodies and spirits. Jack worked long hours clearing land for a cabin and a field to grow crops. Mabel took care of the domestic side of life and baked pies for the restaurant in their little “town,” to make some extra money, but she felt more distant than ever from Jack because of his long hours and the effect of the punishing labor on his aging body. One night, during the first snowstorm, the two went out to celebrate the event, by building a snow girl, replete with mittens and scarf. Days later, they noticed a little girl in the woods, alone and shy, wearing their mittens and scarf. Gradually they were able to draw her closer to their house, until finally they spoke to her. She was a wild little thing, accompanied only by her friend, the fox, surviving in the wilderness.
This book is a love letter (and a love story) to the wild beauty that is Alaska and to the hardy souls who make it their home. The harsh winters provide a context for people to help their neighbors in ways that are unimaginable in suburban life in the lower 48. Adversity can bring out the best in people, as it does here, and enriches the lives of all involved.
THE BEAUTY: Mabel had a relationship with a river otter that she kept a secret from everyone, including Jack. She liked watching his antics from afar, and it was during one of these sessions with him that she felt a soaring sensation in her heart, that she knew to be love. Her otter helped her fall in love with the wild place that had been her home for eight years.
When the land softened in the Alaskan summer, Mabel and Jack would have feasts with the Bensons, their closest neighbors, where the men built an alder fire early in the morning to roast the meat of the black bear that Garret Benson had shot. Esther would bring potato and beet salad and Mabel baked fresh rhubarb pie. We’re fresh out of black bear meat, and rhubarb season is over, so it had to be potato salad.
Russian Beet and Potato Salad
4 small potatoes
2 small carrots
3 small dill pickles, diced
¼ C vegetable oil
2 T champagne vinegar, or balsamic vinegar
salt to taste
3 green onions, chopped
Bring a large pot of water to a boil, and cook beets until tender, about 30 minutes. Bring a separate pot of water to a boil and cook potatoes and carrots until tender, about 20 minutes. Drain vegetables, cool, and remove skins. Dice and place in a large bowl.
Place the diced pickles in the bowl with beets, potatoes, and carrots. Drizzle the olive oil and vinegar over the mixture and toss to coat. Season with salt. Sprinkle with green onions. Chill completely before serving.
Ate it all before remembering to take a picture!