Rivers and Ice: A Woman’s Journey Toward Family and Forgiveness

By Susan Pope

Riddle Brook Publishing

Peterborough, New Hampshire

March, 2024


“With unflinching honesty, Susan Pope explores the complexities of a uniquely Alaskan life’s journey that will resonate with readers no matter where they live. Vacillating between frozen and flowing, the human and geographic landscapes she explores are hauntingly beautiful and complex. A memorable exploration of resilience and hope that gives readers much to ponder.”


— Deb Vanasse, author of Wealth Woman and Roar of the Sea

“Breathtaking—a flipped raft snarled in a snag while two paddlers barely make it to shore. Breathtaking—a goshawk diving straight at the eyes of two women hikers diving flat into mud. Breathtaking—a woman crying in the American Cemetery in Florence Italy as she recognizes for the first time the risks and sacrifices her troubled father made so she could live. Susan Pope brings alive these moments and so many more in her deeply moving evocations of five generations of lives well lived in an ever-changing Alaska. A book of marvels, breathtaking.”


—  Peggy Shumaker, former Alaska Writer Laureate, and author of Just Breathe Normally and Cairn.

“A gorgeous evocation of what it means to be an Alaskan, rendered with great skill and artistry by a writer who loves this place and knows how to show it.”


—  Rich Chiappone, author of Hunger of Crows and Liar’s Code.


A rafting disaster, a failed canoe journey, a dash to reach a summit while deserting her daughter in bear country. In her memoir, Rivers and Ice, Susan Pope struggles to reconcile the competing forces in her life: the lure of travel with the safety of home; the love of family with the desire for independence; and the image of who she aspires to be with the reality of her faltering attempts at marriage, career, motherhood, grandmother-hood, and physical competence. of the North. Suicide, a tumbledown inheritance, the miracle of the Arctic caribou migration. Few memoirs combine love of nature with love of family so eloquently, while at the same time acknowledging that each carries the potential for so much loss and pain. Through it all, this is the story of one woman’s quest to carve a place for herself and claim her own unique power.


There were easier ways to celebrate thirty years of marriage, but I wanted to see the bears. The fat fishing bears at Brooks Falls in Alaska’s Katmai National Park. We could have hired a bush flight to dash us across the waters of Cook Inlet for a few hours of bear watching from a safe distance, fill a memory card with pictures, then fly back to the city to toast champagne over a fancy dinner. Mission accomplished. But we chose the hard way, on water, where we began our love affair, on a raging river with a leaky raft. Thirty years of these waterborne adventures had brought us closer together, split us apart, even nearly killed us. Rivers, lakes, oceans. Raft, dory, kayak, canoe. Talachulitna, Alsek, Kongakut, Nigu, Canning, Colorado…We were camped on the shore of Lake Grosvenor on the second day of an eight-day guided trip to Brooks Falls. I lay awake in our tent, staring out the small plastic window at our feet. I saw nothing but the gray swells and the white foam of waves on the lake, as if we were adrift on the ocean, yet our white and yellow dome tent was tethered securely by stout metal poles and brightly-colored ropes against the pummeling wind.