The Scholar by the Sea
An Alaskan Adventure with Brendan Jones
We love Alaska here at Groove Life, so we have a natural affinity for anyone willing to brave the Last Frontier, especially with their young family.
Brendan Jones is just such a man.
“I knew we had given birth to true Alaskans the day my 6-year-old daughter enthusiastically slammed a salmon’s head on the ground as tourists walked by,” said Jones.
He first fell in love with Alaska when he arrived in Sitka in 1997. About 100 miles southwest of Juneau, only accessible by boat or plane, Sitka is a classic fishing town tucked into the western shore of Baranof Island.
After his freshman year at Columbia University, Jones arrived on the island to work in a salmon hatchery. To save money for college, he took to living in the woods, about 15 minutes outside of town. That worked fine until he accidentally burned down his tent.
“Rookie mistake. I was attempting to prime my stove inside the vestibule. Lesson learned.”
Brendan and his wife, Rachel, love the intimacy of Sitka.
“We want our kids to know cities, but we love walking down the street here and running into folks from school, hunting partners, Rachel’s friends from Silks class.”
Sitka sits on the wave-lashed western edge of the Tongass National Forest, a temperate rainforest known for its towering Sitka spruce and 1,000-year-old cedar trees.
After burning down his tent, Jones doubled down and built a hut alongside Indian River, where he lived through the winter.
“It wasn’t the smartest thing to do, considering the number of brown bears we have on the island. But that’s what being young is all about—doing stupid things, then figuring your way out of them.”
It wasn’t until later in life that Jones fully understood the extent to which living on a remote island requires durable, reliable gear, like the Groove Belt.
“Out here we need belts that don’t suck. The Groove belt is a beast,” said Jones.
He often hikes with his family - always taking his Glock 20 with him.
“We have over 1,500 bears on the island. After a couple run-ins, I just don’t like to be out there without protection, especially with the family.”
When asked about his wedding ring, Jones responds, “Yes, I have a beautiful wedding ring, from my grandfather, with July 15th 1945 inscribed into it, the day my grandparents were married. I am not about to lose it in the forest. Since I work with my hands all day, I love using the Groove ring.”
After seven years of bouncing between work and education, Jones ended up graduating from Oxford University in 2003. Debating big ideas in ancient cloisters, however, wasn’t his only pursuit at Oxford. Boxing provided a welcomed release and testing of his mettle.
“The carpentry and commercial fishing and boxing balances the work with words.”
Following graduation, he worked with the Alaska Carpenters Union, putting in long hours—sometimes 12-hour shifts, 7 days a week. In 2011, he bought a WWII wooden tugboat, the Adak, as a fixer upper.
“It’s expensive to live in Sitka—and, as with living in the woods—I didn’t really know what I was getting into, but went along for the sleigh ride.”
Along the way he picked up work in commercial fishing, tendering for sea cucumber divers, and salmon trolling.
“You work 18-hour days for three weeks at a time, throwing up over the edge of the boat as you haul in fish,” said Jones. “It’s crappy work, you’re miserable, and then you go home and wash your clothes in Coca-Cola to get the stink out.”
But for a creative mind like Jones’, it also provides a coveted bonus: Lots of time off for writing in the winter.
“That’s how I finished writing my first novel that year, The Alaskan Laundry.”
The son of professional journalists, Jones has a natural knack for words. He has written pieces for The New York Times, The Washington Post, Smithsonian, The Huffington Post, The Seattle Times, Patagonia, as well as for National Fisherman and Fine Woodworking.
On a normal day, Jones carves out time for writing early in the morning. On an abnormal day, he hits the jackpot.
“Every now and then, Rachel agrees to let me disappear for a week, for a writing excursion. I go to a little cabin on an island only accessible by boat, no wi-fi, and get lost in the work.”
Jones is also an in-demand writing instructor. He was a Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford University, and continued to teach at Stanford with the School of Continuing Studies.
He served as an adjunct professor for the University of Alaska, and spent a year as a Fulbright Scholar researching the Russian-American Company in Irkutsk, Siberia. (Dedicated players of the board game Risk will know exactly where Irkutsk is on the map!)
His appreciation of great narratives shines through in his courses on journalism, novel writing, and the literature and allure of the Great North.
Ah, yes, the Great North. To this day, Jones can’t resist the call of the wild.
Raising a family in a remote Alaskan village has its challenges, but Jones wouldn’t have it any other way.
Like all true Alaskans, he embraces the adventure.
Groove Life®. Ready for Adventure™.
You can find Brendan Jones at: https://www.brendanisaacjones.com
Check out Brendan’s latest novel for young adults: Whispering Alaska