By John Hildebrand

“John Hildebrand units out in a canoe . . . to discover the nice riverway of northwestern Canada and Alaska. . . . The geography is heavily rendered and the characters specially sharply drawn. the rustic is choked with mad dropouts at river fish camps, good-hearted ladies within the cities, sullen natives in tumbledown villages, cranky old-timers, negative drunks and worse moralizers who dwell off the wild panorama and its plentiful assets. . . . it is a effective paintings, and Hildebrand is a fantastic writer.”—Charles E. Little, Wilderness

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The bridge also linked the town with an Indian village across the river. A satellite dish and Indian spirit houses, equally pale in the twilight, faced each other from opposing hilltops, sending and receiving vastly different messages. The next day a steady stream of Indians crossed over the bridge from the village. The foot traffic was all one-way. On the road into town, an old woman asked me to light her cigarette, cupping my hand shakily as she leaned her face into the match. I spent the heat of the day on a bar stool in the air-conditioned Carmacks Hotel and drank beer with one of the truck drivers.

Bend, the river bore through an S curve so tight my canoe seemed momentarily headed upstream. Out of the corner of my eye I watched an owl glide into the dark timber of the next hillside. There were no rapids but plenty of riffles. Sunlight permeated the greenish water clear to the cobble bottom, magnifying it so that the river always appeared shallower than it really was. The chief obstacles were fallen trees, or sweepers, that yawned over the water on the inside bends. Undermined by the swift current, a row of sharp-tipped spruce had toppled into the river like a breastwork, their branches sweeping the surface with River Time 25 the sound of heavy rapids.

Today was the summer solstice, the longest day. I'd nearly forgotten. Days on the river tended to run seamlessly together. But in Fairbanks, after the long winter, I had always celebrated this date with a pagan fervor. It was the pivotal point on which the year turned, at once the apex of sunlight and start of the long slide toward darkness. Every summer, a woman I knew threw a solstice party at her cabin. A volleyball net was strung up in the dusty yard, and we'd play into the next day. Teams were not rigidly fixed, and there was a constant flux of substi- Pioneers 41 tutes; at anyone moment, the net arbitrarily divided husbands and wives, friends and lovers.

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