A firsthand account of a life spent hunting, studying and living alongside caribou in the Alaskan Arctic. Kantner leads readers through the historical past and present day, revealing the fragile intertwined lives of animals and people—including the Indigenous Iñupiat—surviving on an uncertain landscape of cultural and climatic change sweeping the region.
Structured according to the seasons, these essays range though memoir, natural history, ecology, politics and Alaska history. But they never stray far from the free-range ungulate—the North American subspecies of the animals called reindeer in Europe and Asia—that was the foundation of the Kantner family economy, and whose biology and behaviors are marvels of adaptation to the rigors of this environment ... I expected this book to be heartbreaking, given the way things are going not only with caribou but with others among, ahem, our animal friends. But my own years living in the Alaskan bush are now three decades distant, and I was not prepared for how portentous for us all are the reports of this current resident ... Mr. Kantner is a fine writer, an even better photographer. Tundra landscapes, in their majesty and sweep—and the imposing caribou as well—are underrated for their beauty. The breathtaking photographs that illustrate this book, in concert with essays that describe all that is happening underfoot and beyond the horizon to unravel this beauty, make A Thousand Trails Home gut-wrenching in its impact.
Sharp, fond essays and landscape photographs move from his childhood in a sod igloo into present-day battles over wildlife management, Indigenous rights, and resource extraction. Cozy reminiscences contrast with descriptions of 'Rambo hunting,' as snowmobiles and semi-automatic weapons replace dog sleds and .22 rifles ... This is not a book for the squeamish: its lyrical descriptions of natural beauty are punctuated by scenes of field-butchering, orphaned calves, and nauseating insect larva plaguing caribou innards. Alaska and its caribou are shown to be threatened by accelerated warming, as plants and wildlife become more out of sync with various environmental cycles ... A Thousand Trails Home is a labor of love that advocates for more balanced ways of treating caribou and protecting the amazing Alaskan wilderness.
Along with telling his own personal story, which reads as the adventure Jack London and Jon Krakauer wished they had lived, Kantner considers how rural Alaskans rely on, revere, and, occasionally, take for granted the caribou. His sharply worded dismissals of bureaucratic ideas about life in the bush have an urgent relevancy, while his gorgeous prose, along with his stunning color photographs, bring the beauty of the state to every page ... this is the book he was born to write, a most worthy successor to Barry Lopez’s Arctic Dreams (1986).