My love for wild places germinated during early childhood in the Arctic. Later, my adventurous mother moved her two little girls to Arizona and waited for us to grow. I was fourteen and my sister twelve when the three of us set out by canoe across Canada to the Arctic Ocean, a journey that spanned two summers. When I was seventeen, we spent a year driving around outback Australia. I returned to college in Tucson, but departed before graduation to wander Alaska’s remote Brooks Range with my first husband. In the spring of 1972 we pulled our canoe up a wild river into the mountains, built a cabin, and lived four years from the land. Throughout six decades, the natural world has remained central to my life, and its beauty continues to cradle my spirit.
I was 35, a displaced Ohio farm boy and nine-year Navy veteran, when I met Jeanie. I’d left southern California and the aerospace industry to build a rustic home and studio in the Tucson Mountains. I’ve always enjoyed improvising, choosing creative exploration over security. As Aspen-Irons art glass studio, Jeanie and I designed and built large, architectural projects in leaded, stained, beveled and etched glass. For two decades we lived in gentle simplicity on five acres where I built much of what we used.
Our son, Luke, was a year old the first summer we spent in Arctic wilderness. He was four when we paddled out of the Brooks Range, passing Jeanie’s old cabin on a sixweek downriver journey. Around our evening campfires we began to speak of returning to these mountains to build a home of our own. Two years later we were dropped off by floatplane for fourteen months alone.
Laurie knew us only as friends of her mother, yet volunteered to join our adventure. She had little outdoor experience and it took courage to set off with strangers for a year alone in the wilderness. We had no satellite phone in 1992 and the only way back to civilization was a 600-mile canoe trip before freeze-up. Laurie proved to be a funny, compassionate and wise companion. Her willingness to learn and her unqualified friendship were a great blessing. When Luke was thirteen and we returned to the mountains for another year, Laurie again came with us. She remains a special member of our family today.
Born to two adventurous artists, Lucas always walked his own path. He evolved into a bright and complex individual, incorporating Laurie’s quick wit, his mother’s determination, and his father’s sense of fun. Always at home in Nature, his relationship with civilization was complicated. Although drawn to the excitement of the city and love of friends, he was grounded in the solitude of open space. Lucas was tender toward animals, children, and old people but could never resist poking fun at displays of arrogance. In this Tribute, he speaks of Alaska and how wilderness shaped who he became, formed his values, and nurtured his soul.
To support the Lucas Irons Memorial Scholarship at the school that fostered his young growth visit http://www.greenfields.org/home/support/lucas_irons_scholarship 100% of your gift is used by students to explore their dreams.
Brian George Smith is a talented Alaskan editor and independent filmmaker with thirty years experience. He has written fifteen screenplays and produced feature-length films, including, The Roosevelt Tree, Dixie Blue Summer, Puffin Bay, and The Care and Feeding of Jack. Brian was our finish editor on Arctic Son: Fulfilling the Dream, and is chief editor with us on Arctic Daughter: A lifetime of Wilderness.
We are indebted to Lindianne Sarno for composing Arctic Child Suite as musical score for our documentary Arctic Son: Fulfilling the Dream. Lindianne lives in Alaska where she teaches music, plays multiple instruments, writes, and gardens.