My parents were arctic adventurers who recorded their nomadic lives in books and early documentaries. Childhood treks with them kindled a deep love for nature in me, and I too spent my youth wandering Alaska’s remote Brooks Range. My first book, Arctic Daughter: A Wilderness Journey about those wild years, became a Reader’s Digest selection. I recently updated it and added photos.
I was drawn back to this wilderness in 1992 with my husband, Tom Irons, our six-year-old son, Luke, and friend Laurie Schacht. We four were flown into the mountains and left along the river a few miles above my old cabin. Here we built a log home, which we call Kernwood, and lived alone for more than fourteen months. When spring again freed the river, we embarked on a month-long canoe voyage back to civilization. Throughout our sojourn in this vast solitude we candidly recorded our lives. Eventually, we produced our documentary, Arctic Son: Fulfilling the Dream, which has been shown on PBS stations across America, I also wrote my second book, now updated and again available.
Prolonged immersion in wilderness patterned our family’s ensuing decades. At Kernwood, we crafted several structures—each a hand-hewn work of art—and lived in whimsical dance with the seasons. After Lucas set out on his own life’s journey, Tom and I continued to return each summer. Then in 2012, our beloved son unexpectedly died. In profound grief, we retreated to the solace of Kernwood where the gracious land cradled our hearts. We still spend a third of each year afoot in arctic mountains. You can read our essays under Jeanie’s Garden and Tom’s Corner, and perhaps discover thoughts that resonate with your own quest. There are also photos, and a Store page where you can order our books and documentary.
Winter of 2016-17 has been a productive time for us. Trusting the River, my memoire about integrating my two worlds and evolving through unbidden twists in life beyond a trail, will be published in May. We also edited a first draft of Arctic Daughter: A Lifetime of Wilderness. The second in our planned trilogy, this 90-minute documentary spans my lifetime and explores human belonging within the greater community of life. In addition, Tom and our editor, Brian George Smith, finished a 30-minute piece, Desert Glass: A Love Story, about the twenty years Tom and I spent as glass artists in the Tucson Mountains. It is currently entered in film festivals.
Tom is seventy-one now, and I am close behind. In June we again circle back to Kernwood, as we have for a quarter century, our annual migration now a poignant goodbye. We have come to believe that intact wilderness is our highest legacy—a clean space where children of tomorrow can envision their own wild dreams. Rather than allowing Kernwood to become a moldering cabin or foothold for exploitation, we began last summer to consciously remove all human traces, except for Lucas’s memorial garden. We are flying out and recycling all items that did not arise from the land, and splitting the logs into firewood or returning them to the river. Last summer a young friend, David Lefton, helped us dismantle the storehouse and replant its footprint as we began recording our third major documentary, Rewilding Kernwood.
Laurie will join us in July for taking down the original cabin which she helped build. The following summer, Tom and I plan to complete the rewilding and then paddle downriver one last time. It seems a fitting departure from a land and way of life that has blessed us these many years. We hope our work inspires you to pursue your own unique visions of beauty, love and wonder, and to honor the gifts in your life. Please continue to share our story with your friends. Thank you for your generous good wishes!
Jeanie Aspen and Tom Irons, May 2017