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December 29, 1991|Charles Solomon

THE STARS, THE SNOW, THE FIRE: Twenty-five Years in the Alaska Wilderness by John Haines (Washington Square Press: $8.). This ruminative memoir by the noted poet-essayist is not a straightforward autobiography but a collection of reflective essays. Haines occasionally repeats himself or rambles on a bit, but his informal style seems well-suited to the descriptions of life in the rugged Tanana River region of Alaska, east of Fairbanks. His explanations of mundane activities take on a larger significance, until a walk through the snow on a brief winter day becomes a microcosmic reflection of a leisurely yet demanding existence. "What does a person do in a place like this, so far away and alone? For one thing, he watches the weather--the stars, the snow and the fire. These are the books he reads most of all. And everything he does, from bringing in firewood and buckets of snow, to carrying the waste water back outdoors, requires that he stand in the open, away from his walls, out of his man-written books and his dreaming head for a while." Haines makes frontier life seem so appealing, even a confirmed city-dweller may start daydreaming about forests and parkas and moose meat stew--at least until he puts the book down.

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