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Alaska: A Story Like the Wind

Posted July. 23, 2005 03:11,   


According to the Eskimos, Alaska means “great land.” It is a place that sways the heart with lush pine trees and milky streams melted from glaciers, schools of salmon rushing upriver, and an ancient spirit that is exhaled from prehistoric glaciers and icy cliffs. It is easy to think it is a deserted land, but there are respectable cities with universities and golf courses, and natives who have protected their homeland for generations.

Spellbound by Alaska, there is a wildlife photographer who has dedicated his life to capturing this land and its people on camera. He is no other than Japanese-born Michio Hoshino. At 19 years old, he fell in love with the Alaska that he coincidentally came across in an album at a used book store. Strapping on his camera, he swiftly took flight for Alaska to spend one season with an Eskimo family, returned to Tokyo, and six years later, enrolled at the University of Alaska, majoring in wildlife management. For the next 20 years or so, he recorded the nature and people of Alaska in writing and in pictures.

His photographs went on pages of Japanese magazines like Asahi Weekly and even renowned journals such as National Geographic. The images are good, but the gentle attitude of the writer towards the sundry lives of Eskimos in his articles strike a chord within readers’ hearts.

Californian-native American Bob Yule who became an Eskimo after being intrigued by Alaska, native resident Canis Nukon who refused the blizzard of industrialization and abundance that hit his hometown for a life of scarcity are just two of his many other stories--from those of whale-hunting Eskimos to water-spouting whales, salmon-catching bears, trails of amorphous winds, and the midnight sun—whose lives silently spread out before you.

Many have Alaska on film and speak of it, but Hoshino’s is special in that his is the result of understanding and sympathizing with nature and humanity from the Eskimos’ point of view.

The author was mauled and killed by a brown bear while sleeping near Kurilskoya Lake, Kamchatka in 1996 at the age of 43. As the book title says, he became like the wind.

Mun-Myung Huh angelhuh@donga.com