'Still Points North' an Unintentional Memoir of Alaska Flying
April 4, 2013
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  • By: Colleen Mondor

    One of the more surprising aspects of Alaska’s aviation environment for tourists is the casual manner in which aircraft are incorporated into daily life here. When discussions arise with residents about flying off to go fishing or hunting in their own personal aircraft, most people from Outside can not believe that such a thing is possible, let alone common. This is also generally why their heads explode at the first sight of Lake Hood in the summer time.

    Our plane is a four-seat Cessna 185 on floats. Over Cook Inlet, Dad keeps us low, swooping over the cold gray expanses to point out surfacing beluga whales. I sit beside him, wearing my matching headset and holding my matching steering wheel. He pretends to fall asleep after a while. I take over the controls, the way I’m supposed to, checking and rechecking that our nose is level. “Dad?” I say over the crackle of the radio static. “Dad?”

    He saws off a phony snore, his eyes still shut. “You’re fine. You’re doing great.”

    As she documents a life split between her mother in Baltimore and her father in Anchorage, Newman returns often to episodes of fishing and flying, while recalling her travails with her new life which soon includes a stepmother who is also a pilot. From her memory of being scared while caught unexpectedly in an updraft while returning from Lake Iliamna to reflecting on the ease with which she recognizes Anchorage from the air, flying permeated her childhood. On visiting her father over the summer she writes:

    In the morning he goes off to the office and I go to a terrifying, loud place in the nearby woods full of kids and kickballs and crusty jars of paste, also known as day camp. As soon as it turns 3 P.M., we hop in the 185 and fly out as fast as we can get the plane loaded.

    “Still Points North” is not an aviation title, but the book offers a peek into the impact of flying on daily life for average Alaskans and in that respect it embraces both the state’s literary and adventure legacies. Leigh Newman grew up flying with her father and she never forgot it. Here’s to many days for all of us in our 185s, and to all the joy that fly-in fishing (and more) can bring.

    Leigh Newman will be at the UAA Bookstore with author Sherry Simpson on April 24, at the Great Harvest Bread Company for a 49 Writers Craft Talk on April 25 and at Cyrano’s Theatre with author Eowyn Ivey on April 26 .