Rockwell Kent did not know where he would live in Alaska when he arrived in 1918. His intention, if it can be said that he had one, was to find a place apart from other people, and to paint. From Seward, a town full of men who had come north in search of gold, Kent and his young son—also called Rockwell—took a small boat into Resurrection Bay, where a chance meeting led them to an empty cabin on a small, wooded island. On August 28, under gray and drizzling skies, they loaded up their small boat and moved to Fox Island.
Kent was an artist from New York, a slight man with a long, sharp nose and a soft chin. Among his supplies was a heavy load of books—Nietzsche’s Thus Spake Zarathustra, both the Odyssey and the Iliad, a collection of poems by William Blake, and more. Alaska, he imagined, might provide fuel for his work for a time. He was a landscape painter, and this place had wild and unexploited natural sights and resources for a man like him.
Kent didn’t think of himself as writer, but in the months he spent on Fox Island, many nights were dedicated to letters home, describing the Alaskan days and nights in detail. That writing became a book, Wilderness: A Journal of Quiet Adventure in Alaska, and at least one British magazine thought it to be “easily the most remarkable book to come out of America since Leaves of Grass was published.”