South Fork of the Salmon Wild and Free
FEW BLADES of grass have ever sprouted under Jerry Dixon's feet. He is perpetually in motion and perpetually in the wilderness. Had Teddy Roosevelt lived in the later part of Twentieth Century, I have no doubt that he and Jerry would have somehow found each other, and teamed up for a journey someplace--probably several of them--and at night, they would have hunkered down in a cabin with the wind howling outside, shared a bag of jerky, told stories late into the night--and compared their lists.
Lists. Like Roosevelt, Jerry is famous for his lists of wilderness adventures. While many folks have lists of things they wish to do, Jerry's are lists of things that he has done. Just take a look at his list of last summer's outdoor adventures: In early spring, he skied across the western Alps on the La Haute Route. In late spring, he traversed the Alaska Range and climbed Denali. In mid summer, he took his family down the big rapids of Hell's Canyon, and in late summer he raced across the Wrangell-St. Elias Mountains from Nebesna to McCarthy in Alaska's roughest test of endurance and survival, the Alaska Mountain Wilderness Classic.
Jerry has been a smokejumper, a fire management officer and a fire ecologist for the Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and National Park Service. He is one of the few jumpers in the 62 year history of smokejumping to have survived a double malfunction (when both parachutes fail to open when first deployed). He has also been a river ranger (on the Yukon River) and a cabin builder (one in Alaska and the other in Idaho). He is a philosopher, a biologist, an ultramarathoner, a climber, a kayaker, an extreme skier, a conservationist, a guide, a writer and a teacher.
For several years, he taught in Shungnak, a native village near the Arctic Circle. In the winter of 1989, he called me from Shungnak to check in. He was sitting on his wood stove, he told me, with all his jackets on trying to stay warm in his small and airy shack on the edge of the village. Outside it was an incredible minus 72 degrees Fahrenheit.
While the cold snap kept him indoors for a few days, he relished it. I could tell it in his voice. He relished every bitter minute of it: the incomparable cold; the long, exquisite crystalline night; the vast emptiness outside his door. Living in such extremes, living on the far edge of the civilized world is just the sort of thing that gets his juices flowing.
Jerry is also a father. He and his wife
of 18 years, Deborah, live in Seward, Alaska. They have two very
loved and very energetic boys. Jerry teaches gifted students at three
schools in the eastern Kenai Peninsula of Alaska. Among his professional
interests, he developed the North Pacific Project which has brought over
2,400 Alaskan students to the Alaska Sea Life Center to learn about the
wonders of the sea. He is an Alaska McAuliffe fellow and was recently
honored as a BP Teacher of Excellence.
--RW March, 2001
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