Reading the north

"Erinaput Unguvaniartut: So Our Voices Will Live" by Translated by Alice Reardon. Edited by Ann Fienup-Riordan
"Home Ground" Edited by Barry Lopez and Debra Gwartney

Home Ground

Edited by Barry Lopez and Debra Gwartney (Trinity University Press, $18.95; Kindle edition, $11.49)

The blurb: Baraboo, kiss tank, desire path, louderback, fumarole, envelope field, chattermark. These words -- and hundreds like them -- describe our mountains, farmlands, woods and backyards. They are evocative terms that make up the language of the American landscape. While many have fallen out of regular use, they are vital to our understanding of place and of a language that many still seek to use purposefully every day.

This new, redesigned, near-pocket-sized field guide edition of the bestselling hardcover makes more than 850 original definitions for words that describe our lands and waters more handy and accessible than ever.

Edited by Debra Gwartney and National Book Award-winning writer Barry Lopez, "Home Ground" helped revitalize our sense of place. Each of the entries by the forty-five contributors (two from Alaska), including Barbara Kingsolver, Charles Frazier, Jon Krakauer, Joy Williams, Robert Hass and Antonya Nelson, is a wonderful piece of original writing that not only defines a word but also creates vivid images of our landscape and its diversity.

In his introduction, Lopez writes, "What many of us are hopeful of now, it seems, is being able to gain -- or regain -- a sense of allegiance with our chosen places, and along with that a sense of affirmation with our neighbors that the place we've chosen to live is beautiful, subtle, profound, worthy of our lives."

Excerpt: "Ice Stream" by Eva Saulitis

In "Innocents Abroad," Mark Twain described how he once camped on a glacier, hoping it would transport him miles while he slept. He wanted to hitch a ride on an ice stream, a term that refers to the movement of a whole glacier down a valley. Twain was disappointed; the imperceptible creep of such a glacier might be better compared to the slow, plastic flow of warm putty than to the swift flow of water. If it adheres to the bed and walls of a valley, an ice stream moves by slow deformation. Other ice streams slide forward on sheets of meltwater. When glaciers from side valleys push into a valley glacier, the result is a compound glacier, made of two or more ice streams "flowing" side by side. These parallel streams are visibly delineated, separated by long, sinuous black stripes called medial moraines, as the encroaching glaciers deposit trails of rock debris scraped from the valley walls onto the trunk glacier's surface. Ice stream also refers to another phenomenon. Within ice sheets and ice caps, ice streams -- narrow zones of faster-moving ice -- are bounded by broader regions of slower-moving ice. The border between fast and slow ice is marked by spectacular crevasses. A bird's-eye view reveals ice streams as bands within the ice that "overflow" the ice margin. The forces that cause ice streams are not fully understood, though landscape features under the ice sheet may be factors. For instance, ice flowing over buried valleys increases in velocity in the same way that a flooding river flows faster in its deep channel than it does over its floodplain.

Erinaput Unguvaniartut: So Our Voices Will Live

Translated by Alice Reardon. Edited by Ann Fienup-Riordan (Calista Elders Council; $35)

The blurb: This book is the result of a collaboration between the community of Quinhagak and the Calista Elders Council, the major heritage organization for southwest Alaska. It was initiated by the people of Quinhagak to both preserve and share the history and oral traditions unique to their homeland at the mouth of the Qanirtuuq River on Kuskokwim Bay.

Quinhagak elders gathered in the village as well as traveled to Anchorage to work with oral historian Alice Reardon and anthropologist Ann Fienup-Riordan where they worked together, for the sake of their young people, "so that their voices will stay alive."

Excerpt: Lead Dogs Are Very Smart

George: And those lead dogs are evidently very smart. A lead dog will evidently not leave the trail although there's a blizzard if it knows its trail.

Back when I was traveling by sled with dogs, I experienced that. When I got lost, thinking that my dogs were going the wrong way, using my own judgment, I tried to get the dog to turn.

After turning for a little while, it would turn back to what was apparently the trail it had taken before. That lead dog was actually following the sled trail. I was actually trying to get it to go in the wrong direction, trying to lead that dog in the wrong direction to where we would have gotten lost.

And I arrived at that village, that dog brought me there since it evidently the trail and was going the right way. A dog will evidently know the trail it had taken in the past although we think that it's wrong.

And we've heard the story about that dog who didn't want to go any longer in a blizzard, and that person in the sled apparently spent a night next to his home.

Martha: The dog didn't want to go any longer and stopped. When the sun came up, (the man) saw that he was outside his home.

Joshua: These dogs are apparently good to have, also. And the brother of that person's husband there, dogs saved him when he was lost out in the wilderness a long time. That person evidently stayed in the middle of his dogs when he was lost for a long time. He tried to stay warm from the dogs' heat and stayed in the center of his dogs.

He actually got frostbite, but he was alive. And both his ears were removed they were frostbitten, and his feet were in bad condition also because they were frostbitten. People say that he was saved from death by his dogs.

The Last Wilderness: Alaska's Rugged Coast

Michael McBride (Fulcrum Publishing, $27.95)

The blurb: "The Last Wilderness" is a remarkable story of pursuing a dream of living on the land and raising a family in wilderness isolation. In the face of incredible hardships, the McBrides not only carried out their vision, but in the process built the world renowned Kachemak Bay Wilderness Lodge that has become a model for ecotourism everywhere. Told with both humor and sensitivity, McBride chronicles the many people and events that could only be part of Alaska's rugged coast.

For almost 50 years Michael McBride has lived at his award winning Kachemak Bay Wilderness Lodge. The lodge has won more awards, and has been the focus of more magazine, newspaper, and film attention, than any in Alaska largely because of its environmental activism. McBride is a member of the Explorers Club and a Fellow of the Royal Geographic Society. He has extensive experience as a wilderness guide, bush pilot, a licensed Coast Guard captain, a marine biologist, a conservationist, and a voice for nature.

The New York Times named the lodge one of the "1,000 Places to See Before You Die," and the Travel Channel dedicated an entire episode to it.

Excerpt: My beautiful friend Terry Rothcar told me that her real name is Chaas' Kwoowu Tlaa, "Mother of Salmon." It is an honorific name passed down from her ancient heritage, and it denotes her clan lineage. Honoring her ancestors, she has rebirthed the ancient art of spruce-root basketmaking and advanced it to an artistic pinnacle of international acclaim. She digs for the roots in the dirt with her hands. "The ancient ways of gathering;" she said, "are a rich lesson in today's world." Across the continent, Robert Frost also told us about "The Need of Being Versed in Country Things" in a modern story that sings of this significance but in a language more comfortable to those tied to Europe.

The recognition that there is special wisdom in indigenous knowledge is linked to the growing awareness that there is intelligence everywhere in nature. This truth is finally coming full circle and completely changing our view of the world and our place in it. We no longer dismiss myth and legend as fanciful but have begun to realize that they contain important facts and timeless truths. We are coming to the realization that people lived on this green earth for a very long time without harming it. We can and must use the combination of technology and traditional knowledge to attempt to restore some of what we have lost. And although much has been lost forever and simply will not come again, these are the most exciting of times with new and startling discoveries going on all around us. Perhaps never before in human history have individuals been better able to shape the world's perception of itself.

Compiled by Kathleen Macknicki, Anchorage Daily News.