I started this book during a speed dating project and decided to try to finish all those books I dated and decided to keep and finish before the end oI started this book during a speed dating project and decided to try to finish all those books I dated and decided to keep and finish before the end of 2015.
This is a fascinating account of one year in a life of the first white American woman to travel to the Pribilof Islands. Her granddaughter created this book through her diary, letters, and some artifacts (there are drawings, paper, and ephemera pictured throughout the book.)
The only reason Libby even travels to these islands is to accompany her husband, who after struggling to make ends meet accepts a government position to oversee the seal industry; the United States having only recently purchased Alaska from Russia. Libby gives the best overview in a letter to her parents:
"The poor dear ladies of Czar Alexander II's court must be weeping in their caviar because they no longer can have so easily the sealskin coats they loved so much and must content themselves with the lowly mink and sable. But old Alexander needed money for his impoverished treasury after the Crimean War, so he sold us Alaska, and these islands came with the purchase, as you remember - $7,200,000!"
The journey TO the Bribiliof Islands in 1879 was harrowing enough, leaving from San Francisco and stopping only once in the long chain of what was then called the Onalaska Islands. Libby was a woman who rarely took ill, but was completely out of commission with seasickness (along with most of the people traveling.)
"I have... begun to question whether those who have written so beautifully of the sea were ever on it."
But the journey was just the beginning. Life on St. Paul's Island was incredibly isolated, with a diet primarily of seal and whatever else they transported in. Entire chunks of the year would not allow shipments in and the winter of 1880 is quite harrowing.
"The sea is frozen for miles. The ice holds the surf in bondage so that there is no longer the boom and wash of waves breaking below us. The silence, except for the keening of the winds, is ominous. It is the silence of death."
It was interesting to read her diary and her letters side by side because often she is leaving out the greatest challenges when she writes home - those of survival and problems in her marriage. She was honest in her diary in a way that really gives an insight into how she was feeling and what was really going on. ...more