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THIS COLD HEAVEN:
Seven Seasons in Greenland

Author: Gretel Ehrlich

Greenland, the world’s largest island, 840,000 square miles in extent, is covered by the largest continental ice sheet in the world. Only the rocky fringe of its coast is habitable. There, the Inuit, the Arctic’s first explorers, have survived and thrived in the harshest of climates. For the Inuit, an ice-age, ice-adapted people who first travelled from Siberia across the polar North six thousand years ago, weather is consciousness. In a world composed of ice and darkness, water and light, where skins of dog, seal, bear, even hare and eider duck, are sewn into clothes, tents, and sleeping bags as protection, where transport is by dogsled and kayak, the only rein for the uncontrollable force of weather is an unbending self-discipline.

The blend of physical endurance and psychological perseverance required for daily existence first drew Ehrlich to this terrain. Her guide, her inspiration, her companion in spirit was the great Danish-Inuit explorer and ethnographer Knud Rasmussen. Between 1902 and his death in 1933 he launched seven expeditions: to record the unknown history and customs of the nomadic Eskimos and to chronicle the skills, beliefs, and crafts that made life in this climate possible and a matter of grace. This Cold Heaven is a distillation of her many journeys and an attempt to capture the clarity that blinds us with surprise.

From Publishers Weekly
The book's epigraph, "I am nothing. I see all," comes from Emerson, but it might have been spoken by any of the shamans, mythical animals or spirit guides who inhabit this haunting work. It also catches the tenor of Ehrlich's concerns, for as an essayist and a naturalist, she frequently explores the relationship between the physical world and the province of the unseen. In the summer of 1993, recovering from a lightning strike that left her with a dodgy heart, Ehrlich (A Match to the Heart) set out on the first of many journeys to Greenland. Over the next seven years, she made her way across the high Arctic, traveling by dogsled, skiff and fixed-wing airplane, "in a country of no roads, where solitude is thought to be a form of failure." Inspired by the expedition notes of Knud Rasmussen, the brilliant Inuit-Danish explorer and ethnographer who recorded what Ehrlich calls the "lifeways" of the Inuit people, she traveled with subsistence hunters, spending weeks at a time on ice. Stylistically, Ehrlich achieves an arctic clarity, pared down and translucent. Because she is not content to merely narrate events, her divagations, as well as Rasmussen's, serve as jumping-off points for all manner of inquiry just as the Eskimos, to borrow her metaphor, used "ice as a flint on which their imaginations were fired." Reading Ehrlich, one gets the impression that she has no fixed idea about the progress of her journeys across the snow or the page. This very vulnerability, along with the narrative's pervasive sadness and loss, infuses the book with a quiet power. Maps and illus.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

$14.00 (softcover)
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