This Sleeping Moose trilogy started as a simple documentation of my own parents’ pioneering experiences in Alaska. I had envisioned writing down several episodes, simply to satisfy all curiosity among my descendants. But by the time I’d finished the first draft, it was obvious that our family’s twelve years on a remote mountaintop had the makings of a real American odyssey adventure.
After this realization, we had a Peters family pow-wow. It was decided that nominal fictionalization would be the best course, since some families might still have descendants living in the old town. My mother stressed a need for kindness and my father insisted upon global anonymity. So, it’s Historical Fiction that one gets here.
My mom and I have been collaborating on this memoir since that meeting at the beginning of the century. Together we’ve culled the family albums and come up with hundreds of photos, each one worth at least a thousand words, and Kate Peters’ stories have been committed to paper for all future generations, not just mine. Sleeping Moose Saga is our contribution to the noble libraries of America’s great pioneering histories.
Our tale is about two anachronistic romantics who feel that they were born one hundred years too late. Independently, they have ventured north to Alaska, each in pursuit of their Utopian dream. A young, and somewhat disillusioned Tim Peters has recently returned from Vietnam. Kate Cutting, a seeker, fresh from the tropics, loves the tranquility that she experiences in the north woods.
As construction begins on the Trans-Alaska oil pipeline, Tim asks Kate to jump aboard with him when the modern-day gold rush roars through town. The prospect of being part of a once-in-a-lifetime adventure is too enticing to be ignored and the young woman takes a sharp left turn, signaling the beginning of their life’s quest together. They sign on with the Pipeline, elope while on R&R and drag up one year later with a substantial nest egg. Now to find land.
Tim’s desire is to build a cabin with his own hands. And truthfully, a cabin sounds perfect to his “Brook Farm” beguiled bride. They settle soundlessly on the pristine spot where a moose has recently slept. Here they will begin to build their own version of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s self-reliance model. Instantaneously abandoning all social support systems, and most modern conveniences, the couple melts into the Alaskan backwoods with the notion of living life in total privacy, and on their own terms. The result of this rash decision is a biographical saga that relies heavily upon my mother’s journals, the stories she told me, and many of her letters sent home to Hawaii.
It is especially fortuitous that my Hawaiian Grandma Tutu kept many of these letters, as they provide us with a firsthand perspective of one frontier wife perched on the cusp of a technological revolution. Within two decades, the silicon microchip will explode onto the forefront, rendering moot most of the hardships that she describes in her writings. It was the end of an era, but you can read about 20th century pioneering here. The details will ring true.
If you had the privilege of growing up without modern facilities, the inconveniences will be nostalgic. But for millennials and those born later, Kate’s tales will be quite educational to all who may never, unless they dare, experience the thrill of using an outhouse.
The read offers delicious diversion for those who suspect they may have missed the golden opportunity to seize their own mountaintop moment. And may it be inspiration for those who hear the calling of the life adventure that awaits them.
“Oh, you’re going to see the elephant!” My grandma Tutu, herself a descendant of the 1850s covered wagon migrations, said, ecstatic when she heard their news. “Seeing the elephant,” what would that mean?
There are three parts to the saga.
Building a cabin in the woods using retro tools turns out to be a lot of work. This is largely what Part One is about. The newlyweds also began building a family at about that time.
Part Two: Nature is a relentless queen. Will winter be what sends them home? The dreadful weather of 1979 offers no respite. How is it possible to survive all that Mother Nature throws at them?
Part Three: with conclusions by Atwood, in which Tim and Kate meet their “elephant” in the bush. If you possess a trustful spirit, beware! For in the wild one will surely meet the savage sides of both Nature and of Man. As more and more people move onto the mountain during the 1980s, all the smart moose move out. They know it will be dangerous to mix with humans, especially humans in the woods carrying guns.
Many folks on the wagon trains of the 19th century reported encounters so fierce that they turned around and headed back for civilization. For some, it was a terrifying animal bearing down on them. For others, the ferocious weather and the impassible terrain. Cabin fever, the creeping insanity of social isolation took its toll on many, as well. But can the encroachment of humans themselves cause the tender soul to break and run?
No one can describe “the elephant” comprehensively. An existential reckoning takes on innumerable forms. Recognizing one’s insurmountable limitations creates a collision between idealism and reality that can be pivotal. Such acknowledgement —such enlightenment— carries a bittersweet payoff.
In American pioneering lore, “going to see the elephant” is the story about pilgrims daring to reach out in search of a better life. Unfortunately, the result of “seeing the elephant” is a lot of stunned pilgrims. But take heart. Wisdom will seep like syrup from the cauldron of disappointment, and life can be sweet again.
I guess that’s it. If you’d like to read this saga, it will be available soon.