On the first Saturday of March 2011, the Last Great Race, the Iditarod, began in Alaska. That year marked the 39th race. Unlike past years, the Iditarod Trail Committee created a page on Facebook for fans unable to be there in person to share the experience with one another. It was an unprecedented gathering full of tension, laughter, educational comments and insights by people from around the world from all walks of life. The one commonality shared by all was our love of the Iditarod. On the evenings and weekends during the race, I rarely left my computer; it was such an engrossing, virtual, communal conversation.
Within just a few months I had read and reviewed Barron’s title, self-published in the fall of 2010, here on Librarian’s Quest. By following this link you can read my review in its entirety. Below is an excerpt.
But readers least you think this is only a story of The Last Great Race be advised it is more, so much more. It is a story of determined triumph in the face of overwhelming adversity. Reading this will raise you up where you are acutely aware of that wellspring deep within us that longs to make us free. Ballad of the Northland is to be savored again and again for the sheer beauty of its characters and the landscape that surrounds their journeys.
This summer I took my own advice to savor this gem again, listening this time to Ballad of the Northland read by Jason Barron. Barron has that rare gift of a natural storyteller not only in his writing but in his speaking. It’s as if the blood of ancients runs through his body giving him the ability to mesmerize his listeners with the tale he tells.
As different characters flowed in and out in the storyline Barron’s inflections varied appropriately; it was uncanny how much he sounded just as your mind pictured those people. If a particular emotion needed to be conveyed volume and pitch were perfect. As a listener there was never a doubt as to the mood or thoughts of a specific personality. One of my favorite passages is when The Whaler begins to mentor The Boy describing his experiences of running the race. The image of them sitting together around a fire is extremely vivid; the true essence of The Whaler comes to life and you as the listener are sitting in the shadows leaning forward not wanting to miss a single word.
Having spent a good portion of his life living in the Alaskan bush, Barron is able to describe the wilderness in which the story is centered beautifully with intimate knowledge and passion. The intonation in his speaking mirrors his written word in such a way as to create a true movie of the barren and rugged vistas in the listener's mind.
I found myself sitting in my car although having arrived at my garage or in a parking lot, completely taken with this version of Ballad, not wanting to leave until a disc was finished. Barron completely captivates you.
Added to this audio version at the end is a series of comments by Barron relative to the writing of Ballad offering further insights into his motivation and answering some questions in which we readers/listeners crave answers. His remarks include his recording process for this edition which was no easy feat but nevertheless done with meticulous care.
Each of the eight discs is illustrated with eight different pieces of artwork from Ballad of the Northland by Jason’s wife, Harmony. Included with the set is a map of Alaska with two insets as well as illustrations along the side from the title worthy of framing and drawn by the talented Harmony Barron.
When a flower arrangement is made from a gardener’s own gardens and taken to someone in need, that is a labor of love. When an intricate cutting board is painstakingly made with small fitted pieces of wood and gifted to a neighbor, that is a labor of love. When a quilt is pieced together over the course of years to give to a friend on their 60th birthday, that is a labor of love. When a meal is prepared from scratch to serve to family or friends, that is a labor of love. Jason Barron’s audio version of Ballad of the Northland is a labor of love, you can hear it in every syllable he utters; listeners are keenly aware of his very personal investment in this story.
Even though I took great pleasure in the reading of Ballad of the Northland, hearing it read by its author took this story to a whole new level. I loved it and truly look forward to making that journey with The Boy yet again.