Eric Forrer came to Alaska as a teenager in 1962 with teacher parents. They had seven years in schools on three different reservations in the Arizona desert. Their Alaska trip originated in a Papago village 25 miles from the Mexican border, which in those days was unmarked. Eric and his family had lived in that same village on the Papago for five years. He says: “The desert can be striking. In those formative years it established a wilderness mood in my thinking, which I never really lost. As far as I was concerned the wilderness was the real world and the urban environment was a blight of some sort. It came with a set of rules I never completely learned and was characterized by overwhelming alienation.”
Going north to their new school assignment they spent a few days in Juneau, a few in Anchorage, and a few in Bethel. Those were the years of Lean’s Lodge in Bethel, where the family stayed. There were two oil ranges in the kitchen which were thawing the permafrost, and the whole two-story frame structure was falling into the hole the kitchen was making. There were three long tables and at dinner an entire cross section of the Bethel population was seated. One morning they got into a beat up Cessna 185 and departed for Alakanuk on the Lower Yukon, where Eric’s parents were to spend four years. “I remember seeing the Yukon River, flocks of snow geese on the sandbars and the whole river system disappearing over the horizon, thinking – ‘Count me in.’ I was hooked before we landed, and in 55 years that sentiment has never wavered.”
Eric’s primary education was what they nowadays call ‘home schooled.’ The University of Nebraska had a correspondence program that was available worldwide and it was from this program that Eric got his GED. From there it was a couple of years at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks. It didn’t take. “I couldn’t make the leap,” he says now. “A lot of village kids couldn’t make the leap. It was and remains a huge problem in a widespread rural and bush state.” Eric edged his way into the blue-collar trades and thirty five years later retired as a general contractor with a track record in general shop work and custom houses. He brought a love for commercial fishing with him from the Lower Yukon and still fishes.
One thing Eric prizes about Alaska is its characteristic of being broadly egalitarian. "You can have breakfast with the plumber and dinner with the governor, or maybe they're both at the same function," he says. Associating with, working with, and working for people across the spectrum paved the way for Governor Steve Cowper to appoint Eric to the University of Alaska's Board of Regents in 1989. "My education was checkered at best, and the Board of Regents was a reach," he says. "It was an idiosyncratic appointment." But I brought a perspective from bush schools and the trades, which is what Governor Cowper wanted."
“Alaska made my life and saved my life” he says, “and as a consequence I can be pretty fierce defending it.”
Colors of the Morning Sky is Eric’s third book. His first publication was From the Nets of a Salmon Fisherman, a novel published by Doubleday in 1973. The second is a children’s book, Bucket, published by McRoy and Blackburn, 1985.
Forrer can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.