Monday, January 22, 2007

A Home in the Wild

Oxford, MS> The Oxford Eagle has published a nice article about my brother James and his family in Alaska. He is a guide there and lives about 60 miles from anywhere. His specialty is Moose and Bears. This is not your drive up and shoot kind of hunt. It is back country stalking that is close up and extremely dangerous in heavy cover. For the hunting adventure of a lifetime email him at this address Here is the article.
Trading modern conveniences for a home in the wild

Staff Writer

Folks back home have a lot of questions about Jamie Howell’s decision to leave Oxford and his stockbroking career for the Alaskan wilderness. The main one is: “Why’d you do it?”It’s an easy answer for Howell and his wife, Kecia, and one they don’t regret after 10 years of eating off the land, hunting for a living and raising seven children in a log cabin they built by hand.
The nearest city is Anchorage, 70 hard miles away. Their closest contact with the outside world is through two recent miracles — cell phones and satellite Internet — and a floatplane that serves as their only way in or out. As communication has improved, so has their business as hunting guides for brown bear, black bear and mountain goats. Their clients for five- to 10-day hunts in the spring and fall include many folks from Mississippi.
The children do their part in helping make camp and lead hunts. The first bear-kill marks the coming of age, most recently for daughter Mahala, 9.The Howells are also parents to Brock, 15; Nathaniel, 13; Cora, 11; Eleasah, 7; and Gabriel, 5. Their eldest, 17-year-old Victoria, is looking forward to coming to school in the fall at Ole Miss, where her parents met more than 20 years ago.Meanwhile, it’s life as usual as the dead of winter sets in — digging through as much as 9 feet of packed snow, bracing for temperatures of minus 45 degrees, and depending on each other as a family for their survival till spring.
So why did they do it? Because they’d have hated not to.The Oxford EAGLE visited with the Howells at the Oxford home of his aunt, Maralyn Bullion, while the couple was in town last week for the funeral of his mother, the late Peggy Howell of Water Valley.
Have many of your family members been to visit you out there?One of my brothers has been with his wife, and all Kecia’s family from Missouri has been. Daddy’s not made it out, because he’s been taking care of Momma over the last few years. I hope he’ll come now.
What’s the land like there? “Real brushy. It’s a lot of thick brush, soft land, a lot of marshy land. ‘Course you always think of Alaska and the mountains, and they’re there — but they’re up there. Very visible, but it’s not like you’d be able to get there from where you are. It’s just too tough. “Seventy miles in Alaska is a long ways. When we first bought it, I’m thinking, ‘Shoot, that’s from Oxford to Memphis. That’s nothing — I can walk that far in a couple of days, I guess.’ And boy, when you get up there, it would take me a week to walk out of there. It’s tough country.
”How did you decide to go?“We just had gotten tired of what we were doing, and then we thought about a couple of places we’d like to go. We looked at some rural places in Arkansas, and we talked about maybe somewhere else out West, but it kept coming back to Alaska.“In the end, we ended up buying a piece of property sight unseen in the remote hinterlands of Alaska — where they were even talking about it being remote. We literally sold everything we couldn’t fit in a truck and a trailer, and packed up like the Beverly Hillbillies and off we went. We had five children with us and had two more since then.
”So what did the kids think about it?“You know they just followed along but they did good. It was kind of an adventure, especially the first summer when we were building the cabin. There’d be bears in the yard — you wake up in the morning look out and there’s bears in the trees, wandering around all the time. It was a trip.
”What was it like that first year?“There was nothing there, and we lived in Army pup tents for the months it took to get a cabin built from scratch. We literally landed there with a chainsaw and some spikes and some Plexiglas, and built everything else from timber that was there.“We took everything in we could by plane when we first went, ‘cause it was almost a year before I made it back into town. We brought lots and lots of canned food. ‘Course we killed some bears and moose, so we did have that. We ate a lot of salmon.“We’re on the lake and then about a mile and a half away is a river where we did most of the fishing. It’s just five acres and it’s surrounded by State of Alaska land.
”What all do the kids do there?“Every day is never boring, but there’s always hard chores to do. We get our water still from the lake, and they have to run it through a sophisticated water-filter system. They have to haul the water from the lake, bust wood, bring wood in. They have to help cook — there’s nine of us, so it’s like running a camp all the time. And then they have home school, which really takes up the vast majority of their day.
”What do you think this lifestyle’s given them?“Survival skills, being able to do stuff on their own. And I think being more responsible, not taking many things for granted. “Just the mere fact of turning a faucet head and water comes out of it is an amazing concept. When you have to go get water out of the lake and chop a hole in the ice to get the water out of the lake, and bring it in and run it through a filter to get drinking water, you appreciate something that simple.


GUYK said...

I can appreciate this kind of living. I bought a place in the bush about fifteen miles out of North Pole Alaska back in 1980..lived there for the three years I was stationed in Alaska..but at least with my 4X4 pickup and studded snow tires I could get in and out and we did have electricity to run the well pump and a TV TV station. Radio got played a lot...

Editor said...

thanks, hope you like your fishing pic in the post below.

Matt said...

Cool story. Thanks for the link to the Oxford Newspaper; brings back memories!

Stephen Larsen said...

I met Jamie back in 04' at the Bear Lake Lodge in Port Muller, Ak. He was the real deal, a great guide, wonderful person and a real fun fella to be around. I was impressed with his lifestyle. He does it well.