Norman and Sylvia Wilkins

From their log cabin overlooking Scoter Lake at Nelchina, to Glennallen, Anchorage, Wasilla, Copper Center, Tok, Palmer, Fairbanks, Denali, Matanuska, Susitna, Valdez, Cordova and other arctic communities, Norman Wilkins recorded daily journal entries throughout the 25+ years he and his wife Sylvia spent carving out a life on the Alaskan tundra

Norman Wilkins and Slovenia-born Ladislava Kolenc (Sylvia to those who know her) met in postwar Gorizia Italy in 1946, marrying there in 1948. They moved to Iowa where Norman grew up, and farmed in several communities until 1957 when they moved to Motley, Minnesota and built the Tamarack Dell dairy farm. There, they raised their family and farmed until the late 1970s.

Norman had long felt the pull of the north, drawn to the mystique of Alaska—“The Last American Frontier” many said, and once the children were on their own, that desire to go north grew stronger. He made more than one hunting trip to Alaska before the 1978 expedition included in this book, and as the trips unfolded, so did Norman’s desire to make Alaska his permanent home—to be a part of the expansive wilderness and yes, explore for gold!

The cabin sits on a ridge overlooking Scooter Lake at Nelchina, Alaska

Sylvia was not so enthusiastic in the beginning. (Bear in mind, those first few years they lived in a one-room, 12’x16’ plywood cabin with no indoor toilet, no electricity and no running water.) Once, after they settled in Nelchina, Sylvia was asked how she liked Alaska, to which she replied, “I really like the people here, but you can take Alaska and give it back to the Eskimos!” They did eventually build a larger, nicer cabin (pictured here).

They did find gold in Alaska. They found it in the air, the mountains, the wildlife and especially in the people—the people they worked shoulder to shoulder with and shared their table with, each one weaving an independent piece of the tapestry of everyday life along the Glenn Highway during those years.

The contents of this book have been transcribed from Norman’s notebook-style pages as originally written with the exception of occasional edits and insertions for clarity. Books two and three are already nearing completion.

Every effort has been made to maintain Norman’s unique personal style so as not to lose the naturalness of the voice, nor the meaning of his words. His entries are simple, natural, and to the point—bringing to mind another well-known, long time Alaska resident, Dick Proenneke, whose self-documented story, Alone in the Wilderness: An Alaskan Odyssey (written by Sam Keith), has been much celebrated among outdoorsmen and self-sufficiency enthusiasts.

Norman is well known as an honest man—to the nth degree. Case in point, the title of this book. He questioned it, so we did the math. The 1978 trip (August 11 to October 29) took 79 days. Eight months of work and planning prior to moving to Alaska permanently, totaled 240 days. June 29, 1979 until May 3, 2005 (when they moved back to Minnesota) encompassed 9,066 days. That gives us 9,385 days (not including trips to Alaska prior to 1978). I think we’re good with the numbers.

Norman and Sylvia currently live in Minnesota but a big part of Norman’s heart remains in Alaska.

November 2016 update: Somewhere around 2010, Norman was diagnosed as having Alzheimer’s disease. In the fall of 2011, he sustained a fall and broken hip which resulted in some time spent in a care facility. He eventually went home but the next year, Norman suffered more illness and cognitive deterioration. He is now in a care facility in Little Falls, Minnesota. His wife Sylvia and two of his three daughters, Theresa and Beverly, all live nearby and monitor his care. His other daughter Nadia (the publisher of his journals) lives in Minneapolis and also visits frequently.

—Nadia Giordana, Cloud 9 Publishing

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