“The physical domain of the country had its counterpart in me. The trails I made led outward into the hills and swamps, but they led inward also. And from the study of things underfoot, and from reading and thinking, came a kind of exploration, myself and the land. In time the two became one in my mind. With the gathering force of an essential thing realizing itself out of early ground, I faced in myself a passionate and tenacious longing—to put away all thought forever, and all the trouble it brings, all but the nearest desire, direct and searching. To take the trail and not look back. Whether on foot, on snowshoes or by sled, into the summer hills and their late freezing shadows—a high blaze, a runner track in the snow would show where I had gone. Let the rest of mankind find me if it could.”
— John Haines
John Haines died in Fairbanks this spring when I was off traveling. I had no idea until today. I had heard of Haines ever since I landed in Alaska, but I hadn’t read his work until a good friend gave me a copy of “The Stars, The Snow, The Fire”. I’ve been searching out his work ever since. The man, more than any other writer I have read, captured the essence of Alaska.
Haines drove up to Alaska in 1947 and bought a homestead out towards Delta Junction. He built his cabin by hand out of salvaged lumber and homesteaded. According to Haines, he came to Alaska as a painter, but when his paint kept freezing, he started to write instead. He hunted, trapped, , mushed dogs, chopped firewood, observed and wrote. Man, did he ever write. Another Alaska writer, Dan O’Neill has called Haines, “the best poet, writer, and author Alaska has ever produced.”
Former college professor John Kooistra, a longtime friend of Haines, stated that Jack London and Robert Service “were essentially tourists” compared with Haines. “This is poetry of a different level. He was a cantankerous, insufferable, unbendable old bastard but he was a damn good writer. He is Alaska’s best writer. He was a standout.” He was an Alaskan.
John Haines was 86. He will be deeply missed.
“By candle or firelight
your face still holds
a mystery that once
filled caves with the color
of unforgettable beasts.”
–“Winter Light” by John Haines