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Sellwood author receives awards for book about Alaska

by: RITA A. LEONARD - Sellwood author C.B. Bernard has written a semi-autobiographical travel adventure exploring Alaska from the frontier to modern times.Sellwood author C.B. Bernard has a unique advantage in recording his Alaskan adventures. Over 100 years ago, a collateral ancestor, 22-year-old Joseph F. Bernard, left Prince Edward Island on the east coast of Canada to pursue his own exploration of the territory. C.B. compares both lives in his recently published story, “Chasing Alaska: A Portrait of the Last Frontier Then and Now”.

Studded with historical, nautical, and geographical facts and impressions, the semi-autobiographical tale earned the book a Publishers’ Weekly Top Ten Travel Pick award, as well as a National Geographic Top Ten Pick for 2013. C.B. has been asked to speak at the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association Trade Show to be held in Portland in October.

Prior to his Alaskan visit, C.B. knew very little about his long-lost relative Joseph – but luckily, Joe left detailed journals and observations, and even his name, on several northern Alaskan geographical features, as well as on a now-extinct species of wolf.

C.B.'s efforts in his book to contrast an explorer’s natural curiosity with pursuit of survival in the arctic landscape make the account a fascinating story of what it means to be self-reliant.

While Joe appears to have been the more adventurous and talented hunter of the two, the modern author’s literary style and understated humor shape the narrative into a compelling tale of two men who sought to examine the experiences of living in the last frontier at the turn of two different centuries. Joe’s scientific and anthropological interests contrast with C.B.’s literary and biographical talents, creating a rich portrait of our 49th state – from gold rush to cruise ships.

Joe designed and sailed a wooden schooner, the 54-foot-long Teddy Bear, and spent much time exploring the northern rim of Alaska. He kept detailed logs and journals, and earned a reputation for reliability, courage, and fierce endurance. C.B. located Joe’s headstone in Sitka, and the remains of the Teddy Bear in Cordova.

Although Joe was largely independent, and his journeys were not funded by the scientific community, his notes and ingenuity – as well as a fine collection of Eskimo/Inuit artifacts – have done much to help shape today’s understanding of the area and its cultures.

While C.B. learned much about his ancestor from ships’ logs, journals, and old letters, he also referenced conversations from old-timers who had personally known “Captain Bernard”.

Reading “Chasing Alaska” is like sitting around a campfire, listening to tales from a good friend. As an independent white man in territorial Alaska, Joe used his ingenuity to free his schooner from ice jams, cut a tumor from the neck of a sick Native, and to describe Eskimo infanticide practices during brutal winters.

Unlike modern “hunting trips”, Joe hunted strictly for food, often hauling it for miles back to camp. He once downed a caribou at 800 yards, surprising himself with an accidental shot.

Research taking over ten years provided the facts, and C.B. wrote the book in two years. He developed a ‘mixed genre’ approach to the travel memoir; “I had to present myself as a reliable narrator,” he explains. “It’s sort of a creative non-fiction blend of journalism, nature, and exploration, filled with real stories of the unique people who are drawn to Alaska, and who make it such an amazing place to live.

“I’m a writer by trade, but my heart is with fiction writing. I hope to write a novel next.”