When Richard Nixon signed the Alaska Native Claims
Settlement Act in 1971, eighty million acres were flagged
as possible national park land. Field expeditions were
tasked with recording what was contained in these vast acres. Under
this decree, five men were sent into the sprawling, roadless interior of
Alaska, unsure of what they’d encounter and ultimately responsible for
the fate of four thousand pristine acres.
Life and Times of a Big River follows Peter J. Marchand and his team
of biologists as they set out to explore the land that would ultimately
become the Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve. Their encounters
with strange plants, rare insects, and little-known mammals bring to
life a land once thought to be static and monotonous. And their struggles
to navigate and adapt to an unforgiving environment capture the
rigorous demands of remote field work. Weaving in and out of Marchand’s
narrative is an account of the natural and cultural history of the
area as it relates to the expedition and the region’s native peoples. Life
and Times of a Big River chronicles the riveting, one-of-a-kind journey of
uncertainty and discovery of a disparate (and at one point desperate)
group of biologists.
Peter J. Marchand is a field biologist who studies forest, tundra, and desert
landscapes. He is the author of Autumn: A Season of Change, Nature Guide to the
Northern Forest, Life in the Cold and The Bare-toed Vaquero. He lives in Penrose,
In 1975, Peter Marchand was a young biologist hired by the federal government as part of a team carrying out the first systematic biological inventory of the Yukon and Charley Rivers region of Interior Alaska. . . . He and his fellow researchers would discover much that summer, not just in their respective fields of study, but also about a fading way of life in one of the final outposts of the vanishing frontier, as well as a valuable lesson in survival.