2020-05-11 04:36:20 UTC
First half or so:
By Scott Slovic, University of Idaho, ISLE Editor
Richard K. Nelson, known to his many friends in community of environmental writers as “Nels,” died on November 4, 2019, having asked that he spend his final minutes, after being taken off of life support, listening to the recorded sound of ravens. For those familiar with Nels’s life and work, such a request was fully in keeping with his tremendous passion for the natural world, especially for animals, and most especially for ravens and other animals he knew well from many decades of living in Sitka, Alaska. Born in Madison, Wisconsin, on December 1, 1941, Nels earned his B.S. and M.S. in anthropology at the University of Wisconsin and his Ph.D. in anthropology at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Nels first began to live among the Eskimo hunting communities in Alaska as a master’s student at Wisconsin in 1964, eventually producing the book Hunters of the Northern Ice (1969). He later published such works as Shadow of the Hunter: Stories of Eskimo Life (1980) and Make Prayers to the Raven: A Koyukon View of the Northern Forest (1983).
During the 1980s, Nels’s writing became increasingly literary, though it was always anchored in philosophical views he learned from his native teachers in Alaska, particularly the Koyukon people. I first became familiar with his work from the stunning essay titled “The Gifts,” which appeared in the Autumn 1986 issue of Antaeus, a volume that helped to inspire the nascent field of nature writing studies and contributed directly to the eventual founding of ASLE in 1992. “The Gifts,” which appeared again three years later as the chapter “The Gifts of Deer” in The Island Within (1989—winner of the John Burroughs Medal for outstanding natural history writing in 1991), is an essay about hunting, but it also reveals the author’s profound affinity for deer and his respect for their gifts on many other levels. After taking a deer, he writes beautifully of the “incompatible emotions” he feels: “It’s always this way: the sudden encounter with death, the shock that overrides the cushioning of the intellect. I force away the sadness and remember that death is the spark that keeps life itself aflame: these deer we eat from, and the fish, and the plants that die to feed us” (263). In a strange way, the news of the author’s own death comes as a shock to many of us who knew and loved him. He was a supremely energetic and joyful person, always punctuating his eloquent readings and lectures with tongue-twisting phrases in Koyukon and bursts of laughter...
Alaskan Eskimo Exploitation of the Sea Ice Environment, Arctic Aeromedical Laboratory, U.S. Air Force, 1966.
Hunters of the Northern Ice, University of Chicago Press, 1969.
Hunters of the Northern Forest, University of Chicago Press, 1973.
(Coauthor) Kuuvangmiit: Contemporary Subsistence Living in the Latter Twentieth Century, National Park Service, 1977.
(Coauthor) Tracks in the Wildland: A Portrayal of Koyukon and Nunamiut Subsistence, National Park Service, 1978.
Shadow of the Hunter: Stories of Eskimo Life, University of Chicago Press, 1980.
Harvest of the Sea: Coastal Subsistence in Modern Wainwright, North Slope Borough (Barrow, Alaska), 1982.
Make Prayers to the Raven: A Koyukon View of the Northern Forest, University of Chicago Press, 1983.
The Athapaskans: People of the Boreal Forest, University of Alaska Museum (Fairbanks), 1983.
(Coauthor) Interior Alaska: A Journey through Time, Alaska Northwest Publishing, 1986.
The Island Within, North Point Press, 1989.
Heart and Blood: Living with Deer in American, Knopf, 1997.