I received a copy of Small Feet, Big Land: Adventure, Home and Family on the Edge of Alaska a long time ago. Busy with motherhood and an active life, it took me ages to pick it up and start reading. It took a family trip to the South Pacific and Polynesia with our toddler to gain a small amount of “downtime” where I could open the book and give it my full attention. A few months later, occupied by settling back into life here in Banff and taking advantage of the beautiful summer weather in the mountains as much as possible, I’m finally posting my review.
I tell you all of this because if anyone could understand why it has taken me so darn long to post this, it’s the author of the book, Erin McKittrick. At least that’s what I gleaned from Small Feet, Big Land. Mother of two small children and wearer of many hats, including conservationist and environmental consultant, McKittrick is no stranger to the balance of parenthood, adventure, work and all the “other stuff” in life. And this woman takes on big adventures, such as long distance backpacking expeditions, including a few with not one, but two very small children in tow.
Perhaps this is why I could relate so much to what McKittrick has written in Small Feet, Big Land. Many times I felt like she had stolen the words right out of my head – though expressed them far more eloquently than I ever could. The parallels started from the very beginning of the book. Reflecting on the transition to being a mother, she wrote “Backpacking has always been an exercise in embracing inconvenience…. The inconvenience of parenthood should fit right in.”
I have often said that my husband and I wanted to have a child before we got too comfortable with our lifestyles. While this is still true, McKittrick made me realize that becoming a parent wasn’t such a stretch for us. In fact, it was totally in line with our adventurous spirits – the same ones that had taken us on big days of climbing, long distance hikes and to far-flung destinations around the world.
But a book filled with things you already know (even if you’d never found a way of saying them) wouldn’t be as interesting as a book that also opened your eyes to a whole other way of living and seeing the world. Thankfully, Small Feet, Big Land does just that. McKittrick does a fantastic job of describing life at her family’s yurt in Seldovia, Alaska; how she and husband, Hig, spend their time when they aren’t out in the wilderness; how her community comes together to encourage a more sustainable lifestyle; and what child-rearing looks like for people who don’t lead typical lives.
Though McKittrick’s writing style is infused with a more sophisticated tone at times (a testament to her academic background), the book is hardly a dry read. Instead, her explanations and anecdotes makes you care about things you know nothing about and may never encounter for yourself. These include environmental issues, such as a changing climate, which McKittrick weaves throughout the stories of her family’s adventures exploring and living in remote parts of Alaska.
Additionally, I enjoyed the author’s thoughts on what it means to be adventurous, how adventurers negotiate risks as parents, and how people approach challenges differently. She writes with honesty about her own shortcomings, offering a bit of comedic relief and an opportunity for self-reflection for the reader.
Her real strengths as a writer are creating dialogue and capturing moments. Through her anecdotes, we get to know her children, Katmai and Lituya, and smile along with her when they teach her something about the world that only a child can teach.
Adventurers of all kinds will gain something from reading this book. It offers a window into the lives of a truly adventurous family. But it also offers a window into the daily existence of a family trying to live simply – a refreshing reminder of the importance of seeking some peace and quiet amidst our culture of busyness and chaos.
Most importantly for me, it encourages us parents to keep the passion alive. If adventure is what you live for, don’t give it up. It might not look like living on a glacier with two kids for a few months, but you’ll find a way that works for you.