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Alaska trip inspired
tale of mystery, murder

“In the summer of ’93, an MFA under my belt, we set out from Bellingham, pitching our tent aboard the ferry up the Inside Passage. With the names of John’s friends in Homer and Cordova stuffed in our top pockets and little else we embarked on this remarkable experience. ”

— Gerard Beirne

Editor’s note: I ran across a reference to Irish author Gerard Beirne’s debut novel, “The Eskimo in the Net” that said the story was influenced by the author’s trip to Alaska. Considering that the plot of the novel involves an Irishman who discovers the corpse of an unknown Eskimo, I wondered exactly what kind of trip that was.

I asked this, and Beirne told me — sort of. This was the entire text of his reply:

While studying at Eastern Washington University my advisor was John Keeble, a wonderful instructor and writer. He had been commissioned to travel briefly to Alaska to write an article for Village Voice based on the Exxon Valdez disaster. Instead he stayed on to produce his outstanding nonfiction book Out of the Channel — the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound. Influenced both by John and his book, a common interest in maps, and deep respect, my wife, Eilish, and I began plotting a trip to Alaska.

In the summer of ’93, an MFA under my belt, we set out from Bellingham, pitching our tent aboard the ferry up the Inside Passage. With the names of John’s friends in Homer and Cordova stuffed in our top pockets and little else we embarked on this remarkable experience.

Past the glaciers, the porpoise, the humpbacked whales, the deserted islands, the coast of Canada, the father pointlessly imploring his two-year-old daughter to look, to see the most beautiful sight she would ever see in her life, on to Tenakee Springs where in the Blue Moon Cafe one inhabitant decried the “raving veggie eater” who ordered a hamburger on board — a hamburger please and hold the patty, where in the hot springs I was told by an elderly man who had clearly failed to see me shower before entering the springs, “Wash your body before you get in here, we don’t need to share your shit!”

To Juneau and Mendenhall Glacier, hiking up past Last Chance Creek with whistling pigs, three days and nights of solid rain, thick muck, bad boots, food hidden from the bears under the rocks one hundred wet and muddy yards away and nothing else to do but that which would result in the necessity for a baby-size Made in Alaska t-shirt some time later.

Further on to Skagway and the whole romance of my youth, to Anchorage for a night of cheap pizza, expensive beer and free headaches the following morning, to Whittier, through the dark tunnel of war, emerging into daylight July 4th to festivities at the harbor, free hotdogs, burgers (“pile on the patties”) and a ferry trip out through the bergy bits, a lone fishing vessel sounding off a solitary firework, the silence of a frozen world, Valdez, the stench, the supertankers, and Cordova, the Orca book store, David Grimes leading us up into the mountains, a near deathly slip, smoked fish given to us generously to be eaten in our carpark campsite out of town, the boats — Foreplay, Wet Dreams — the bald eagles sitting aloft their masts, upwards to Fairbanks, a city campsite, World Eskimo and Indian Olympics, Paddy just down from the Brooks Range — a part never set foot before in, found a plane, a skeleton on board, couldn’t bear to leave it outside one more night, slept with it in my tent, radioed in the next day, twenty five years he’d been missing, are you hungry, just going to fire up the old stove, make a bit of a stew — into Denali, a day long trek through sub tundra, boots finally unlaced, tents unfolded, a huge grizzly bearing down on us, a quick gathering of tent and footwear, a backing off, it following us on a bear path until we veered off, it fording a stream, us heading uphill in the opposite direction, a large elk waiting to greet us … and on it goes.

A remarkable trip. An inspiration.

Postscript
Beirne reports The Eskimo in the Net has been shortlisted for the Kerry Group Irish Fiction Award. This award for the best work of fiction by an Irish author is worth 10,000 Euro. The winner will be announced June 2, 2004.

About the Author
Irish writer Gerard Beirne completed his MFA in Creative Writing in 1993. In 1995 he was awarded second place in the Patrick Kavanagh Award for his collection of poems Digging My Own Grave (Dedalus Press). In 1996 he won two Hennessy Literary Awards: Best Emerging Fiction Writer Award and New Irish Writer Award. His short story Sightings of Bono was adapted as a short film featuring Bono (Parallel Productions). His novel The Eskimo in the Net was published in England by Marion Boyars Publishers (London, New York) in May 2003 and released in North America November 2003. Beirne now lives in Canada.

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