Three Generations of Alaska Wilderness Heritage Come to Life in this Thoughtful Documentary

Arctic Daughter: A Lifetime of Wilderness

Jean Aspen Shares Her Life and Explores
Human Belonging to Our Wild Planet


Arctic Son: Fulfilling the Dream

The Inspirational Story of a Family Alone in Alaska’s Remote Brooks Range for 14 Months


Jeanie speaks:
My parents, Connie and Bud Helmericks, were arctic adventurers who recorded their nomadic lives in books and early documentaries. I spent my own youth wandering Alaska’s remote Brooks Range, and my first book, Arctic Daughter: A Wilderness Journey, recounts these early years afoot in the mountains. I was drawn back in 1992 with my husband, Tom Irons, our six-year-old son, Luke, and our friend, Laurie Schacht. We four were flown into the wilds and left along the river a few miles above my old cabin. Here we built a log home (which we call Kernwood) and lived in solitude for more than fourteen months. When spring again freed the river, we embarked on a month-long canoe voyage back to civilization. Throughout this sojourn, we candidly filmed our lives. I wrote my second book, Arctic Son: Fulfilling the Dream, and in 2012 we produced a documentary of the same name, which has shown on PBS stations across the nation.

Prolonged immersion in wilderness patterned our family’s ensuing decades. We crafted several structures at Kernwood—each a hand-hewn work of art—where we lived in gentle dance with the seasons. After Lucas set off on his own life’s journey, Tom and I continued to return each summer. When our beloved son unexpectedly died in 2012, Kernwood was our refuge, a place of solace and healing. Sharing this gracious wilderness with others is now our main purpose. We still spend a third of each year afoot in arctic mountains. You can see our Photos and read essays under Jeanie’s Garden and Tom’s Corner.

In 2017 Epicenter published my memoir, Trusting the River, and we completed the second documentary, Arctic Daughter: A Lifetime of Wilderness, in our planned Kernwood trilogy. This 90-minute film spans six decades of my life and explores human belonging within the greater community of life. My books can be purchased on this site (or elsewhere), but the documentaries are only available in our Store.

This spring Tom and I will again circle back to Kernwood, our annual migration now a lingering goodbye. Tom is seventy-two and I am close behind. We have come to believe that intact wilderness is our highest legacy. Two years ago we began consciously removing all human traces at Kernwood—except for Lucas’s memorial garden. We are flying out and recycling everything not native to the land, returning the logs to the river, and replanting our footprint with sod from the roofs. Our concluding documentary, Rewilding Kernwood, will juxtapose creating our wilderness dreams with releasing them in a personal story of human belonging to wild land.

This March I plan to return to the Kernwood to witness a final spring in the mountains. I will be living in our tiny “bunkhouse,” the last habitable structure. I hope to film the valley awakening, birds returning, and the ice going out. Tom plans to join me when the water goes down enough for a plane to land. We will complete restoration of the site before paddling downriver several hundred miles to a road. It seems a fitting departure from a way of life that has blessed us these magical years. We hope our work inspires you to pursue your own unique visions of beauty, love and wonder, and to honor the daily gifts of your unique life. Please continue to share our story with friends. Thank you for your interest in our work, and for your generous good wishes!

Wild Blessings,

Jeanie Aspen and Tom Irons, February 2018

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