by Becca Harber
The Journey, Anne Cameron, 1982, Avon Books, 959 8th Ave., New York,
The Journey is an absorbing "western" adventure story about women
living their lives based on their own power and love. Anne Cameron makes no bones about
it, stating that having found the patriarchal historical perspective sick, she has
re-invented the world and written this book "for all the little girls who always
wanted to and never could grow up to be cowboys," like herself.
Anne is a 14 year old who has worked hard on a homestead, abused by her uncle, and to
preserve herself, sets out on her own, meeting up with Sarah, a whore who has just
survived being tarred and feathered by a vigilante killer and his supporters. They team
up, heading across the Canadian frontier to get far from their persecutors.
Anne, who has been learning to hunt for all their food with the rifle she took with
her, becomes the best example I've ever come across of a clever gun-toting,
knife-wielding, horseriding woman in the rough west, capable of defending herself and
others from violence and domination. To me, the uniqueness and special strength of this
book is in portraying a woman, Anne, who will not take shit from any man (or - who will
not let any man take advantage of her), and has the skills to make this possible. She is
also a unique female character in that her decisions and feelings of self-worth have
nothing to do with whether any man likes her or finds her desirable, sexually or
Yet, there is nothing anti-male about these characters or their story. They are ready
to travel or work with any men who will deal fairly with them without intimidation or
objectification, neither of which Anne (and Sarah, as time goes on) will tolerate. These
are women of integrity and compassion, ready to meet, assist, and learn from people of
varied races and cultures as they make their way by various means to the Pacific.
It is also highly enjoyable to read about women who are able to live off the land and
defend themselves. As much as girls and women sometimes feel we can identify with males
who embody qualities or skills we'd like to develop, it makes a real difference to many
women to meet or hear of women who are similarly knowledgeable. Hopes and dreams feel much
more attainable, and our learning can be enhanced by these women existing as models of
what is possible for women.
Cameron weaves together many diverse elements of the Gold Rush Days, whether it's the
establishment of girls who work the back room" in the saloon; the enslavement and
murderous labor of Chinese building the railroad; the gold-crazy men whose eyes show their
readiness to kill each other for what they've panned; the sexuality of cowboys turned
towards their animals and each other; the hardships and mutual cooperation shared by the
pack train drovers and the women; or the developing love and partnership between Anne and
Sarah, and later, their extended family. That these human conditions, interactions, and
power relations are described from a clear-minded woman's perception makes this book a
rare contribution to the literature of the wild west.
Tension is held through the story by the reappearances of the original men who attempt
to do more violence, called "justice," to Anne, who has gotten Sarah to own her
own power, leaving whoring and catering to men behind, and to Sarah, who has gradually
helped Anne to better express her own intimate feelings. Although they witness,
participate in, and receive some of the varied forms of real-life violence during their
journey, their love and strengths keep them alive with a victory of spirit that men and
women readers will find moving and inspiring. Yet, it is the ancient powers of the native
coastal women, of Old Woman herself, who bring healing to the damaged bodies and spirits
of our embattled heroines, who have fought only because not to do so would mean a final or
living death. It is only then that Anne and Sarah's love can begin to flourish in the
damp, rich, coastal earth.
For men who want to know themselves and women better and enjoy a tale of women
outwitting injustice and taking risks, read The Journey. And for women who want
some herstory of our own and role models to be proud of without reservation, here's your
If you haven't read Cameron's other two books, they are also powerful and unique. Daughters
of Copper Woman is the coming out of the Woman's Society of the Nootka people,
underground for centuries, sharing ancient traditions and wisdom, and telling how their
culture was devastated by the coming of the Europeans. (Available from Press Gang
Publishers, 603 Powell St., Vancouver, BC, Canada)
Dreamspeaker, published under the pseudonym Cam Hubert, is about a severely
troubled boy who is institutionalized, and on one of his escapes, is taken in by two
native men whose traditions enable them to understand his violent fears and behavior, and
assist him in healing. All of Cameron's books are about people coming together on the
basis of personal and collective compassionate power and clarifying and standing up to
those, inside ourselves and outside, who are parasitic and loveless.
The Journey will be out of print soon, so Avon Books needs letters encouraging
them to print more.
Julie of the Wolves, by Jean Craighead George, Harper &
"Miyax pushed back the hood of her sealskin parka and looked at the Arctic
sun. It was a yellow disc in a lime-green sky, the colors of six o'clock in the evening
and the time when the wolves awoke. Quietly she put down her cooking pot and crept to the
top of a dome-shaped frost heave, one of the many earth buckles that rise and fall in the
crackling cold of the Arctic winter. Lying on her stomach, she looked across a vast lawn
of grass and moss and focused her attention on the wolves she had come upon two sleeps
ago. They were wagging their tails as they awoke and saw each other.
"Her hands trembled and her heartbeat quickened, for she was frightened, not
so much of the wolves, who were shy and many harpoon-shots away, but because of her
desperate predicament. Miyax was lost. She had been lost without food for many sleeps on
the North Slope of Alaska. The barren slope stretches for three hundred miles from the
Brooks Range to the Arctic Ocean, and for more than eight hundred miles from the Chukchi
to the Beaufort Sea. No roads cross it; ponds and lakes freckle its immensity. Winds
scream across it, and the view in every direction is exactly the same. Somewhere in this
cosmos was Miyax; and the very life in her body, its spark and warmth, depended upon these
wolves for survival. And she was not so sure they would help. "
Julie of the Wolves is the compelling story of how 13 year old
an Eskimo, leaves an arranged marriage, becomes lost on the vast tundra, and survives.
Originally having set out on foot for the home of her pen pal friend in San Francisco,
Miyax wants to lead the modern life she has been invited to join and to leave the Eskimo
ways behind. But she soon is unable to figure out directions, for the sun will not set for
a month, and she cannot see the guiding North Star. Encountering a family of wolves, she
remembers her hunter father telling how he was fed by them in a time of great need, and
she proceeds to observe the wolves to discover how to gain their trust and communicate her
need, for if they don't feed her, she will soon starve.
The description of how Miyax succeeds at befriending the wolves and her particular
relationships with Amaroq, the father, and Kapu, a pup, is fascinating in its details.
"Sliding back to her camp, she heard the grass swish and looked up to see
Amaroq and his hunters sweep around her frost heave and stop about five feet away. She
could smell the sweet scent of their fur.
"The hairs on her neck rose and her eyes widened. Amaroq's ears went forward
aggressively and she remembered that wide eyes meant fear to him. It was not good to show
him she was afraid. Animals attacked the fearful. She tried to narrow them, but remembered
that was not right either. Narrowed eyes were mean. In desperation she recalled that Kapu
had moved forward when challenged. She pranced right up to Amaroq. Her heart beat
furiously as she grunt-whined the sound of the puppy begging adoringly for attention. Then
she got down on her belly and gazed at him with fondness.
"The great wolf backed up and avoided her eyes. She had said something wrong!
Perhaps even offended him. Some slight gesture that meant nothing to her had apparently
meant something to the wolf. His ears shot forward angrily and it seemed all was lost. She
wanted to get up and run, but she gathered her courage and pranced closer to him. Swiftly
she patted him under the chin.
"The signal went off. It sped through his body and triggered emotions of love.
Amaroq's ears flattened and his tail wagged in friendship. He could not react in any other
way to the chin pat, for the roots of this signal lay deep in wolf history. It was
inherited from generations and generations of leaders before him. As his eyes softened,
the sweet odor of ambrosia arose from the gland on the top of his tail and she was
drenched lightly in wolf scent. Miyax was one of the pack."
As circumstances force her to learn every possible source of food, Miyax applies more
and more of her people's knowledge from stories she heard through her childhood. This book
is a detailed account of her rediscovering the richness of her heritage and how she not
only provides for her needs, but finds she loves this life so closely knit with the land
and wild animals. In doing so, Miyax also realizes the brutal and insensitive sides to the
western technological life, most dramatically expressed as she witnesses the wanton
killing of one of the wolves she loves. The author clearly portrays the complexities of
the Eskimos' lives as the modern overwhelms their traditions, and how Miyax struggles with
the prospect that the life she has just learned to live and cherish is becoming extinct.
To provide a contrast to such predominating trends in the U.S./Canadian north, I recommend
those interested to read Farley Mowat's The Siberians, which describes how native
peoples in the Soviet north have been able to continue many traditions and prosper.
This 1973 Newberry Award winning story, considered a young people's book, yet really
for all ages, offers the kind of role model for girls and people in general so often
lacking in popular literature. To read about Miyax actively moving toward the life she
desires, and finding a totally different one, expressing strengths, skill, and a kinship
with her fellow creatures, is a moving experience as well as informative about Eskimo life
and survival skills and attitudes.
The Talking Earth, by Jean Craighead George, Harper & Row, 1983.
George's more recent The Talking Earth is written in a similar spirit. Also
about a girl, a modern Seminole named Billie Wind, and her experiences surviving alone,
the story is different and equally interesting because she is in the pa-hay-okee, the
Florida Everglades, a vast network of water corridors, rivers, and islands bordering the
ocean. In Billie's case, her homelife is interrupted by the medicine man telling her the
council has decided she must be punished for not believing in the animal gods who talk,
the great serpent who lives in the Everglades, and the little people who live underground
and play tricks on her people. He asks her what punishment she thinks would be suitable,
and she flippantly replies that she should go into the pa-hay-okee to stay until she
experiences all these things. He agrees, and Billie sets out in a dugout with only a pouch
of several foods and items.
Making her way along watery alligator paths, she camps on an unfamiliar island where
the unexpected appearance of the "serpent" creates widespread death and
destruction, turning her short outing into a prolonged stay. Like Miyax, Billie is pushed
by her determination to survive to more carefully observe the life and signs of change
around her and to remember the Calusa (Seminole) lore she's been taught but thought
foolish and useless. She, too, befriends, helps, and is helped by wild animals and also
finds rare traces of her ancestors, which she later watches with horror and grief get
bulldozed for a new development. George gives us a detailed description of the life in the
Everglades and warms readers with the kinds of adventures so many youngsters, and adults,
would love to experience.
The special beauty of The Talking Earth is in portraying Billie's inner
changes. She begins believing that the solution to pollution and other problems is for
people to leave the earth for other places. Yet after going through difficulties, making
new friends, and not only hearing but understanding the animals talking, she realizes that
"It's the Earth that matters. Not the stars or the comets, but the plain
old Earth ... It's all we've got. " Later she shares her learning with another
youngster: "They (the animals) say there is no other planet in all the universe
with turtles and panthers and saw grass upon it. There are no spacemen, no Martians, no
People of the constellations. Just us . . ."
"In the universe? But there must be another Earth somewhere. The odds are.
"That there is another planet like ours."
"Have you ever seen two leaves alike, two flowers, two fish, two panthers
. . . two pa-hay-okees?"
Oats shook his head
"Two you's? Two me's?"
Hurricane Tiger pondered that.
"We have lots
to do, then", he said.