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FIELD NOTES: In the north

I don't know if students today still diagram sentences, but I know I spent a disproportionate amount of time in 7th grade Reading class drawing little tournament brackets for such scintillating exposition as "Jane and Billy walked to the lush green park." Even now, with the luxury of hindsight, it is difficult for me to understand what those diagrams accomplished. I sincerely doubt Hemingway ever asked himself; does the adjective go on the diagonal line? The better part of Reading class, by far, was the actual reading. I had always enjoyed books, but my interests had been primarily nonfiction to that point. Chariots of the Gods was a particular favorite.

Reading class required that we complete a certain number of books over a ten-week period, with the number read determining your grade; six books for an "A," five books for a "B," or four books for a "C." You couldn't read just any book, of course. The books were chosen from an offering of maybe 30 that the teacher, Mrs. Pope, made available. My recollection about precisely how this worked is a little fuzzy, but I think it was either completely on the honor system or there was a very rudimentary quiz for each book.

The available books spanned the range of young adult literature of the time. Mr. and Mrs. Bo Jo Jones, about teen pregnancy, was popular with the girls, while the sports-centric I Am Third was the must-read tome for the Y-chromosome crowd. Although I read (and enjoyed) I Am Third; I eventually gravitated toward the outdoor adventure novels: Snowbound, Cave of Danger, Home is the North, The Cay, and Two Against the North.

Home is the North was written by Walt Morey, who was most famous for his novel, Gentle Ben, which was turned into a television series in the late-60s. Morey wrote more than a dozen other young adult novels, most set in Alaska or the Pacific Northwest. Home is the North tells the story of an orphan boy, fifteen, alone except for his dog. There's an aunt in Seattle waiting to "civilize" him and the Ketchikan fishing couple who take him in and make him feel like family. During his stay with the couple, the boy takes on adult responsibilities like hunting and trapping and learns to work on the fishing boat. When the aunt arrives to claim him, the boy runs away, facing many additional dangers. It is a fun, exciting story, and I remember very explicitly wondering while reading it whether I would ever have a chance to see Alaska for myself. When our cruise ship pulled into Ketchikan a few years ago, the first thing I thought of was Home is the North.

I am back in the 49th state this week, attending a family wedding, but also hiking and fishing and generally reveling in the outdoors. Having said that, I have no illusions about where my home is; I like it here in North Carolina, where the sun is good and warm.


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