Changing Paths

Travels and Meditations in Alaska’s Arctic Wilderness

Bill Sherwonit

Changing Paths

Bill Sherwonit

Distributed for University of Alaska Press

220 pages | 25 halftones, 2 maps | 6 x 9 | © 2009
Paper $21.95 ISBN: 9781602230606 Published September 2009
E-book $7.00 to $21.95 ISBN: 9781602231061 Published March 2010

Changing Paths: Travels and Meditations in Alaska’s Arctic Wilderness is an autobiographical exploration of author Bill Sherwonit’s relationship with the Alaska wilderness. Written in three parts, it first describes Sherwonit’s introduction to the Brooks Range and his years as an exploration geologist. Taking a step back, the author then takes us into the past to explore his childhood roots in rural Connecticut and his recognition of wild nature as a refuge. He concludes with his emergence as a nature writer and wilderness advocate.

An engrossing, fascinating, and eye-opening tale of one man’s life and of wilderness conceptions, this vivid description of an area of Alaska that few people get to experience is authentic and enlightening. It is an extraordinary contribution to the literature of place from one of Alaska’s most accomplished nature writers.






1. Entering New Terrain 2. The Question 3. The Nunamiut 4. A River to Cross 5. Approaching God’s—and Robert Marshall—Country 6. Memories from a Geology Past 7. A Life-Changing Discovery



8. Seeking the Roots of a Paradox 9. A Sheltered Childhood 10. Across the Divide and into the Valley of Precipices 11. A Place of Refuge 12. Passing Though Grizzly Country 13. Days of Rocks and Minerals 14. Meeting Bear, Crossing the North Fork



15. Gates of the Arctic 16. From Geologist to Writer and Greenie 17. In the Shadow of Doonerak 18. Wilderness Music 19. Middle-Aged Discoveries 20. The Journey Ends 21. Joined in Community


Return to Gates

References and Suggested Reading

Review Quotes
Robert Michael Pyle, author of Wintergreen , Chasing Monarchs , and Sky Time in Gray's River

"Changing Paths is a fetching and affecting backcountry chronicle by a humble and unassuming man who loves low adventure as much as high, and loves the wilderness as much as anyone I know. Bill Sherwonit, a pillar and a pro among Alaska writers, walked deep into the Brooks Range and brought back what he found with naked honesty and keen attention. . . . If Sherwonit’s is a journey of the heart as much as tussock and ledge, full of his own doubts, demons, and dooneraks, it is also a report of rare and informed constancy, perception, and reverence. . . . I feel much the richer for this clear-eyed naturalist’s devoted account. I am certain it will lure me back to this none-too-barren ground."

Kim Heacox, author of The Only Kayak and Visions of a Wild America

"Thank goodness for Bill Sherwonit, . . . who in this lovely book invites us to join him on his journey into the Church of Wild Nature, from a childhood with Uncle Peach to an epic hike through Alaska’s Brooks Range, the northernmost mountain range in the world. If every kid in America could spend a summer with this guy—or read this important book—we’d have something truly remarkable: a national ecological conscience, and countless fewer cases of attention deficit disorder."

Dr. Roderick Frazier Nash, Professor Emeritus of History and Environmental Studies, University of California Santa Barbara and author of Wilderness and the American Mind

"Alaska’s Brooks Range is one of the most self-willed (i.e., "wild") places on the planet. Maintaining the opportunity for extended self-reliant, unmechanized trips in this country should be one of the nation’s top priorities in environmental policy. Bill Sherwonit’s exciting book tells why."

Scott Slovic, author of Going Away to Think: Engagement, Retreat, and Ecocritical Responsibility

"Bill Sherwonit writes with the clarity of a journalist, the technical precision of a geologist, and the narrative energy of a natural storyteller—throwing in the occasional flash of poetry. Changing Paths: Travels and Meditations in Alaska’s Arctic Wilderness is a vivid contribution to American nature writing, in the tradition of Barry Lopez and Richard Nelson, that will help readers understand why wild places are so important to our inner lives."

Jim Stratton, Alaska regional director, National Parks Conservation Association

"To a young geologist named Bill Sherwonit, discovering the magic of mountains was life changing, and we are most fortunate that he found his calling in sharing what mountains have to say. . . . Join Bill on his journey of self-discovery as he explores the path blazed by Bob Marshall through Alaska’s farthest north mountains and ruminates on such topics as how to cross a river without dying, why the world needs wilderness, the importance of bones left alone, what to say to a curious grizzly bear, the irrational pull of the wristwatch, the futility of worrying too much, the joy of friendship, and why "wild" is a necessary fuel for life."

Western American Literature
Changing Paths is a multifaceted, intriguing, and ambitious book. . . . Its sense of humor, its passion for preservation, and its focus on one of Alaska’s more unfamiliar and remote national parks more than makes up for the absence of sensational or tragic drama.”
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