ecosophia: JMG in lecture mode (Default)
[personal profile] ecosophia
About a year ago, I was beginning to sketch out the plot for the sixth Weird of Hali novel, which involves a voyage to Greenland on a tall ship. I've never been to Greenland, or anywhere in the Arctic, so I did what writers generally do and went looking for books on the subject by people who know what they're talking about. That and a large used book store was how I ended up with a battered paperback copy of Barry Lopez' Arctic Dreams: Imagination and Desire in a Northern Landscape.

It turned out to be much more than a bit of convenient research for an epic fantasy with tentacles. It's brilliantly written; here's a bit from the fifth chapter --

"Those days on Ilingnorak Ridge, where I saw tundra grizzly tearing up the earth looking for ground squirrels, and watched wolves hunting, and horned lark sitting so resolutely on her nest, and caribou crossing the river and shaking off the spray like diamonds before the evening sun, I was satisfied only to watch. This was the great drift and pause of life. These were the arrangements that made the land ring with integrity. Somewhere downriver, I remembered, a scientist named Edward Sable had paused on a trek in 1946 to stare at a Folsom spear point, a perfectly fluted object of black chert resting on a sandstone ledge. People, moving over the land."

-- but it's also a meditation on humanity's relationship to nature, one that avoids the usual platitudes and presuppositions and goes very deep. I've sat up late I don't know how many nights with a glass of halfway decent bourbon and my copy of Arctic Dreams, partly reveling in the use of language, partly staring at space and following out Lopez' ideas to an assortment of unexpected places. When this copy goes to pieces, I'll be looking for a hardback for the shelf of nature books I keep ready to hand.

Reading recommandation :)

Date: 2017-07-14 11:35 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Regarding life on the far north, I really enjoyed reading "The last kings of Thule: with the Polar Eskimos, as they face their destiny" from Jean Malaurie. It is now a bit old, but still fascinating sociological study / personnal story from his spending years in Greenland.

(no subject)

Date: 2017-07-14 02:15 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Fascinating! Just curious: What are some of the "usual platitudes" and presuppositions" that Lopez avoids in his writing.

-- MJ

The North

Date: 2017-07-14 07:22 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Having spent years in the territory of Nunavut learning about the Inuit from the Inuit I feel I need to comment. I learned a little of the language and the different dialects (and prejudices among the people themselves!); learned about some of the plants that are edible; learned to like raw meats (caribou, walrus (not really, but at least tasted it!), seals, Arctic Char, muktak of whales (whale meat itself is dog food only); learned that Inuit and southern Native Americans did not get along (Inuit feared those southerners); was shown the stone ulus (curved cutting tools women used) and stone "sun shades" that were used before metal and plastic; learned about the "giant people' whose lodges could still be found (and who also were feared); still wear my working and dress kamiks (foot ware made from two types of seal with warm inserts) - never did get a pair of siksik mitts (rodent of the tundra); learned about the Inuit 'games' - one and two leg high kick, knuckle walk, spear throwing, and the "airplane" done by women and girls who were held up at waist level, prone, by three men, arms and legs out level with body, held rigid as long as possible (The younger women could last up to a minute, but the older woman, about 60, lasted about three minutes and only came down because she sensed that the 'boys' who were holding her up were getting tired!!!); learned to be discerning about soap-stone sculptures; learned about child abuse, both girls and boys, that was fairly pervasive; learned about sexual abuse of women by southern "white" hustlers who came for quick bucks and "no one would ever know"; learned that the children of these "relationships" were deemed second-class people by the Inuit; learned that cancer rates were increases due to the fall-out of all the nuclear tests of the 1950's in the southern U.S. landing on this part of the world; learned that several of the lakes and streams where Arctic Char had been plentiful forever were now devoid of them since fishing became an export for currency that in turn would buy $6.00 two-litre milk jugs and $10.00 a dozen eggs; learned that the older generation who spoke no English or French had little in common any more with their grandchildren who lived for chips, pop, and TV, and knew nothing of what their elders knew about survival with and on the land; learned that old people would walk into the snow to die so as not to further burden the family; learned that "school" was for children learning about consumer culture and nothing about what their elders knew; learned to love the land and the people (they were inseparable).
All is not roses, but then we need only look in our cultural mirrors for evidence of that. But mostly I fear for the future of the Inuit (which means "the people") as their culture that was for so long tied to the land and the creatures who gave themselves for the survival of Inuit are coming to an end through climate change and cultural death by education. Placed into "communities" so that they could be 'saved', but also 'counted'; communities surveyed for exclusive lots like we do (though the actual building of houses never really bothered with these silly boundaries!); moved to places where no one lived before (Resolute) so that the country of Canada could claim sovereignty over all the north between Alaska and Greenland; education for lives that could only be lived in the "south", but where racism prevented living such lives.
So much comes to mind now, more than I can include.
Mutna (a recently invented word for "thank you" in one of the Inuit dialects. Like most native North American societies, no words for 'please' and 'thank you' existed in their languages).

Arctic Dreams

Date: 2017-07-14 08:42 pm (UTC)
From: [personal profile] gcanterb
It's been many years since I last read Arctic Dreams, but I remember immersing myself in it after coming back from a summer at a remote field camp in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Lopez skillfully evokes the particular character of that landscape, most unfamiliar to everyday experience in the temperate latitudes. I remember falling asleep in the tent to sunlight coming over the Arctic Ocean at midnight, the pattering of mosquitoes bumping against the tent fabric like rain, and the irregular concussive booming of distant icebergs (melting from the top until unstable, then unpredictably rolling and breaking apart along weakened fracture planes with a spectacular crash). And on the coastal plain one particularly experiences the humbling effect of wilderness, of existing at the absolute discretion of weather and good fortune... of emphatically not being the pinnacle of the food chain. Grizzly, polar bear, wolf, and wolverine were occasional neighbors - not usually nosy, but unforgettably present. Muskoxen passed near our camp one day and we found swaths of their inner wool, qiviut - so effective an insulator that it was promptly warm to the touch. As I realized, it had taken the same temperature as the blood in my fingertips.

I brought out some of those memories when I was writing my story in Merigan Tales; it is strange that a land with such a profoundly timeless atmosphere is at the same time changing so swiftly under the processes of climatic change and modern industry. I wonder what will come to pass for it in the next few centuries.

And let me mention my other favorite book by Mr. Lopez, Crow and Weasel. A short but subtly resonant story, with illustrations that flow gracefully back and forth across the animal/human boundary as if it didn't exist. Which it doesn't, really.

- Grant C.

(no subject)

Date: 2017-07-15 02:35 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
I remember an anecdote told in an anthropology class I took long ago. I forget which anthropologist was named, but he had lived and studied among the Inuit for a year or more and was preparing to return to the university to write up his reports. He asked his hosts why they had never inquired about his way of life. They replied that asking people questions was rude. But, if asking questions is rude, he asked, why had they answered his so patiently? They replied that obviously his customs were different, and it would be polite to go along with his curiosity. The story ends with the anthropologist musing: "Was I returning to civilization, or leaving it."

Looking back, I realize that this cute story did not acknowledge the power differential between the obviously wealthy white person, coming with the power of the government behind him, and the people that he was studying. This was at the tail end of the sixties, when cultural relativism ruled anthropology, and remaining fears of McCarthyism kept politics out of discussions, especially in state funded institutions. I wonder how much of the research we were being taught had been funded by the CIA or other agencies. I abandoned the discipline when I realized that the anthropological community did very little to actually help the peoples they made their living from. For example, using their research to support Indian land claims or to protect sacred sites did not appear to be priorities.

(no subject)

Date: 2017-07-15 12:31 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Yes, a truly wonderful book. I read it back-to-back with Edward Abbey's Desert Solitaire; not so much ecological antipodes as two of those places where this ring-shaped world comes around to meet.


Date: 2017-07-16 05:40 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Lopez is awesome, glad you found him. (Also, your move to Providence seems like a Wyrd tale in itself -did the Great Old Ones hold this fated destiny for you, as you put your own spin on Lovecraft's mythos?).

Lopez is a very able fiction writer as well. His illustrated junior novel "Crow and Weasel" is definitely worth space on the shelf, as his short story collection "Crossing Open Ground".

As you've pointed out about narratives, Lopez has a quote in "Crow and Weasel" that has stuck with me for a long time. I'll share it here:

“ 'Remember on this one thing', said Badger. 'The stories people tell have a way of taking care of them. If stories come to you, care for them. And learn to give them away where they are needed. Sometimes a person needs a story more than food to stay alive. That is why we put these stories in each other's memories. This is how people care for themselves.' ”

Justin Patrick Moore.

Happy Souther and National Ice Cream Day!

Date: 2017-07-16 07:06 pm (UTC)
neonvincent: Detroit where the weak are killed and eaten T-shirt design (Detroit)
From: [personal profile] neonvincent
Happy Souther! Today is the first Sunday after the first full moon after the Summer Solstice, which is Souther, the holiday with a wombat mascot you created. It's also National Ice Cream Day, so I know what the wombat is doing instead of passing out gifts (or taking them away), eating ice cream. So will I.

(no subject)

Date: 2017-07-18 09:41 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
I've always looked over people's bookshelves with interest - they are a way of seeing into another's mind (putting JMG's emphasis on memory work to one side).
How about an AMA that consists of the contents of JMG's book collection? Or perhaps a discussion on the books to sit up late with, a must read list or the ones that just have to come along when moving house?
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