If there is any failing in Terry Milos’ excellent memoir North of Familiar: A Woman’s Story of Homesteading and Adventure in the Canadian Wilderness, it is this: nowhere within these wonderful 208 pages does she get around to physically describing herself and then husband Stan Milos, who are the stars of this narrative. So that duty must be performed by your humble reviewer, who was present on the scene and is even mentioned in her eloquent commentary (on page 132) as we were fond friends during the hippie heydays in Atlin circa 1970’s.
Calling Terry a “school marm” is technically accurate, but projects the image of a stern woman with her hair in a bun and granny glasses wearing a drab sweater. That’s not Terry.
If you had seen her in 1969 walking around San Francisco with some flowers in her hair, you would have been tempted to write a song about her. She was, and still is, tall and willowy (but wiry strong) with long flowing dark hair parted in the centre, and VERY feminine.
Her husband at the time, known as “Stan the Man” was a little taller than her, maybe 6’3″, and looked like the Marlboro Man on steroids, often seen around town in a cowboy hat.
When the two of them were together in a public gathering, they towered over everybody else much like the King and Queen in a chess set. Stan, now deceased, was 10 years older than Terry and I referred to them as Beauty and The Beast.
He was a carver by choice and a master carpenter by necessity, responsible for many of the historical restorations along the Yukon River from Hootalinqua to Fort Selkirk and beyond – which is how he spent many of his summers.
They were not actually homesteaders as they purchased their Little Atlin lakeside acreage at km 6 on the Atlin Road on the open market, but that was only part of their story. She also taught in Tagish, Carcross, Dawson City, Terrace, Old Crow and other communities and Stan took any jobs he could find between Peace River, Alberta and Herschel Island on the Beaufort Sea to scrabble out a northern existence between 1974 to the early ’90s. Atlin was a happening place in those days and the Milos clan was a well known and popular part of the equation even when they didn’t live in town.
Terry is from Florida and Stan was an Alaskan, but they met in Marin County, California where Terry was attending university and Stan was building things, including projects for Clint Eastwood for a while – a story he told me at least 100 times.
When I engaged him to build a small skid shack for my prospecting business I couldn’t help bugging him by saying, “Now I have something in common with Dirty Harry.”
That little tidbit didn’t make Terry’s memoir, but many others did and I was astonished to learn how many things about her and Stan’s life I knew nothing about. For instance, she knows how to make wine out of yard weeds (dandelions). Amazing. In fact, things like that and how to prepare a lynx roast are the gist of this book and the biggest reason I couldn’t put it down once I started. I devoured the whole thing in one overnight reading.
Simply stated, it’s the best narrative I’ve ever read about the country lifestyle in the contemporary north and the only one featuring Atlin and the Yukon. She used very few surnames in telling her yarns, but I recognized most of the characters by their first names even though I might have missed my own if she hadn’t mentioned it at her book signing at Mac’s Fireweed on July 19th.
It took her 25 years to get around to telling her story and she is already 24 years into her second marriage and now living in Sicamous, B.C., but she brought Old Atlin rushing back into my brain with a tsunami of memories – most of them funny and warm, only a couple tragic and sad.
I wanted more when I finished the book. She mentioned to me that it took two months to write and three years to publish, but nobody messed with her voice, which is the key to short memoirs.
Her writing voice sounds just like her speaking voice and that’s a tricky thing to pull off, but it’s what makes this book such a success.
You didn’t have to be there at the time to enjoy her perspective on the things she and Stan did while raising their boys, Travis and Brett. Her yarns are universal because a remarkable woman who disappeared for 25 years has returned with a remarkable book.
That’s called harmonious serendipity.
You can find it at Mac’s Fireweed Books on Main for 25 loonies.