Descriptive Writing Inspired by Hudson Stuck

By Terrie Hanke, 2006 Teacher on the Trail and Eye on the Trail Journalist

Hudson Stuck’s Ten Thousand Miles With A Dog Sled has been on my “to read list” for quite some time.  Stuck was an Episcopal Priest who served the scattered population of the Yukon River Valley in Alaska.  He traveled by dogsled, by boat and on foot covering 1500 to 2000 miles every year.  Ten thousand miles is a long distance, taking well more that 5 winters.  Travel in the early 1900’s was without the advanced equipment mushers of today use.  His journey is astounding and his writing is engaging.  He painted pictures with words so thoroughly, at times I felt I was mushing with him.

All 413 pages of his book, originally publish in 1914 are filled with descriptions that made me enjoy the northern lights, love his dogs as he did and see the incredible beauty that caused him to embrace his travels as the Archdeacon of the Yukon.  He described the people of the area, the dogs on his team, the mountains, the northern lights, the frigid temperatures, the perils of camping in extreme winter weather and the dangers of travelling the Yukon and other rivers with overflow and ice breaking up.

His vivid descriptions made me think of children and the process of descriptive writing.  I’m providing an abbreviated version of Stuck’s description of the Malamute dog from Ten Thousand Miles with a Dog Sled for you to share with your students.  Discussion can follow as to why Stuck’s description paints such a vivid picture for the reader about the Malamute as a sled dog,

From chapter XIV – The Alaska Dogs

Stuck wrote, “There was never animal better adapted to environment than the malamute dog.  His coat, while it is not fluffy, nor the hair long, is yet so dense and heavy that it affords him a perfect protection against the utmost severity of cold.  His feet are tough and clean, and do not readily accumulate snow between the toes and therefore do not easily get sore.  His prick ears, always erect, his bushy graceful tail, carried high, his coat of silver-grey, his sharp muzzle and black nose and quick narrow eyes give him an air of keenness and alertness.  The Malamute is affectionate and faithful and likes to be made a pet of.  He is a ceaseless and tireless worker who loves to pull.”

Now comes the challenge for the students.  Write about a pet you have known or dream of owning, offering a detailed description so the reader feels as if he or she also knows the pet.  Use as many senses as possible in your description.  How does the pet feel, look, sound and smell?  How big, what color, tail, coat, legs, ears, eyes – oh there are so many features to describe.  What physical characteristics make the pet unique?  What does the pet do that is endearing?  Paint a vivid picture with words as Hudson Stuck does.

Good luck and enjoy the challenge of descriptive writing.