Book Review: Letters from Happy Valley: Memories of an Alaska Homesteader’s Son by Dan Walker
The flight from Anchorage to Juneau had a three-hour weather delay, so I stopped by Mosquito Books and quickly found a worthy read that was started over a Humpy’s Great Alaskan Alehouse smoked red salmon caesar salad and finished tucked under my bedcovers later that night.
I had to finish it in one sitting. An honest snapshot of a difficult year that is relevant, relatable and important. A primer in how to find joy in the moment, even when the moment seems very small and insignificant.
My review of Letters from Happy Valley: Memories of an Alaska Homesteader’s Son by Dan Walker comes from a different perspective than most, as I have known the members of the Walker family for nearly fifty years. To deep dive into such an intimate portrait of their beginnings homesteading in the Kenai Peninsula of Alaska was unsettling and cause for significant reflection.
Walker sums it up quite neatly in his closing chapter when he determines that a review of these letters will not find him the father he lost as a young age, a man who is more myth and legend than a real person to him.
Chet Walker is someone I never met, he died the year before I was born, but his oldest son, Tom, became my step-father when I was eight. We never spoke of Chet, so I have nothing to offer Dan, and that saddens me.
There is great truth and honesty in Dan’s interpretation of these letters and how he frames the circumstances surrounding them. They illuminate a path of introspection that is most universal - that place matters, that going back and revising the spaces and people that shaped your youth offers greater understanding of your values and worldview. It is a healthy and needful thing.
When drifting on the current, nothing is as grounding as a visit with someone who knew you well when you were young - they allow you to remember the person you were before all the bad things happened that fractured your heart and made you a more resilient, compassionate, and empathetic person.
These priceless letters are a time capsule loaded with the subtle sweetness of a tough year as it was happening.
Letters from Happy Valley speaks of profound loss, of doing the best you can with what you have, and not being afraid in an uncertain world despite disappointment and failure. Small moments - an ax cut, a shovel full of dirt, a hammer swing - craft a true home out of the wilderness that offers comfort and shelter in the most meaningful way. There is so much here that is relevant to the times we are in, this book is really a gift.