Sunday, March 09, 2008

Heather's Reading List

Many People have asked me what books i have been reading or would recommend, so i'm going to start listing some that i found interesting. At a later date i'll add some descriptions to the list. Hope this is helpful.

1.Ordinary Wolves by Seth Kantner
(no, it's not about wolves) – Written about a family that lived much like mine in the Bush of Northern Alaska. Seth’s main character grows up white and in the Alaskan Bush living off of the land due to his parent’s choices and ideals. This story is partially autobiographical.
2. Books by Nick Jans i.e. Tracks of the Unseen, The Last Light Breaking and Grizzly Maze – Nick writes beautiful books and essays and also is a wonderful photographer and person. He has also lived out in Northern and South East Alaska teaching in the villages, writing and photographing.
3. Four Seasons North by Billie Wright – Billie and Sam Wright moved to Northern Alaska after seeing my parents film. Billie’s book is about their first year in the Bush. Sam’s is more philosophical.
4. Koviashuvik by Sam Wright
5. Shadows on the Koyukuk, an Alaskan Native's Life Along the River - Sydney Huntington as told by Jim Rearden. An amazing story of a Koyukukon man who has spanned the generations between a time when the natives of the area lived mostly off the land hunting and trapping, and the current time when most people are leaving the villages to find work
6. The Long Exile, A tale of Inuit Betrayal and Survival in the High Arctic by Melanie McGrath. The Inuit people are both in Canada and Alaska. This is the tale of the forced relocation of the Inuit people to a desolate part of Canada, where most of them died of starvation etc. The forced relocation was took place so that Canada could claim that land as Canadian soil.
7. Books by Velma Wallis i.e. Bird Girl and the Boy that Followed the Sun, Two Old Women and Raising Ourselves: A Gwich'in Coming of Age Story from the Yukon River. Velma Wallis is Athabascan and her first two books are rewrites of traditional Athabascan legends. Her third book is a heart wrenching story of how the influence of white people, and thus the destructive repercussions of alcohol, affected her home village.
8. Sadie Brower Neakok: An Inupiaq Woman by Margaret B. Blackman. This book is a fascinating book about the first Magistrate in Barrow. Sadie’s life story straddles two worlds. Her mother was Inupiaq and her father was the northern most trader. Sadie grew up learning the traditional ways of her people as well as the dominant white people’s ways. As a teenager she was shipped off to SF to go to school and it is amazing to hear her stories of her first experience with car rides, electricity etc. Her return to her village as a social worker and magistrate is a window into a world that most of us would never have a chance to see.
9. One Man's Wilderness: An Alaskan Odyssey by Sam Keith and Richard Proenneke. Richard went out into the wilderness and built a log cabin at age 50 and then he stayed till he was 80. His book is short, sweet and simple and will send you off day dreaming about living your days out in a log cabin within minutes.
10. Alaska Wilderness: Exploring the Central Brooks Range by Robert Marshal. A Classic. Robert Marshall was the founder of what is now known as the ‘conservation movement’. He was (both in memory and in person) a major factor in securing park lands in Northern Alaska.
11. Vanishing World – the endangered arctic (photography book) by Mirelle De La Lez and Fredrik Granath. An incredible photography book of the coastal arctic, the best I’ve seen.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

New websites and DVDs!

Just wanted to let you know that we have two new websites. Heather Meader has now put her photographs up on the web. These photographs were not able to be posted on the blog while she was out in the wilderness. Her photographs show the stunning landscape of the Brooks Range Mountains - including brilliant Northern Lights, ethereal snow-scape's and dazzling foliage. Please take a look - we think you'll enjoy what you see.

We have also created a website for Northern Light Legacy. The website talks about our family, our history and ideals, the film and our future projects. You can now order the DVD's of Fred and Elaine Meader's film Year of the Caribou and donate directly on the website.

March 2008 Returning to ‘Civilization’ : Part 1

Hi Everyone!
This update is a long time coming. For a while now I’ve been writing various blog updates in my head (and some have even been pretty good!). But, each time I sat down to write I found that I couldn’t put my experiences into any kind of perspective. My experiences were just that – moments in time with very little cohesion. I guess I thought that ‘culture shock’ meant that sounds would be loud and traffic fast and within a month I would be back to my good ‘ole ‘civilized self’. But battling culture shock was not that simple. I think it is only now that I am starting to feel semi comfortable in my old societal role. I was not aware, at the time, exactly how much my life up north had affected the core of who I am - not just my senses. I’ve felt so lucky to have Ryan to speak to as we both readjust to a world that doesn’t seem as normal as it once did. Although he lives hundreds of miles away we talk often and I find some comfort in the fact that our minds and bodies have reacted similarly over the last 6+ months.

This blog will be the first of (hopefully) several that speak about my thoughts and feelings of adjusting back to living in CA. I believe it was Steinbeck who said: “I can’t write hot on a subject, it has to ferment.” I wouldn’t consider this blog fully fermented by any means, but I fear that to make a fine fermented blog it might take years.

My initial return to ‘society’ was discombobulating and overwhelming but yet exciting and adventurous.

While at the lake I wondered often what it will be like to return to ‘civilization’. What would be the first thing I would want to eat when the possibilities were endless? What would be the first thing I would want to do when I could drive in an hour the distance that it took days of hard hiking to accomplish?
When I first arrived back in Fairbanks, I immediately sat down on the sidewalk and took in the assault of sounds and smells. It was all very strange, like waking up from a dream or going into a different dream. It felt like deja vue –like a strong far away memory that I couldn’t exactly remember the details of but that I somehow knew had occurred.

Therefore, I was mildly amused to find myself craving two very specific things that seemed so meaningless when my options seemed so limitless. I craved a milkshake and a new book to read. Strangely these cravings didn’t seem like minor cravings they seemed guttural - I would have got up and walked 10 miles to get them (luckily my friend had a car, so it took me 20 minutes).

Looking back now, however, my supposed odd cravings made a lot more sense then I realized at first. While we were up there – fat was one of the most important items. We were constantly aware of how much fat we had and how much we needed to put in the food. In a world of lean meat and basic staples fat was the key to our survival. The milkshake, then, was the perfect example of living turned luxury. Looking through the lens of about the last year and half of carefully watching and rationing sugar, flour, salt and above all else FAT, it felt like true riches to pour that much whole milk (not even powered), sugar and chocolate into one drink - my body enjoyed every moment of that fine creamy shake like no other shake before.

The book made sense as well. Books for us, represented knowledge of course and was our key to learning many important skills, but just as important they also represented friends and community. We spoke of the books we were reading as if we spoke of actual people: in agreement, in disappointment, in awe, in frustration and in gossip. I absorbed books like I have never absorbed the written word before. With nothing to distract me, the words seemed to create their own reality in parallel to mine. Even today, when I’m feeling lonely, I take down one of those many books I’d read about people living in northern Alaska and carry it around in my bag. It’s like hanging out with an old friend, I can read it’s words and it’s as if I called a friend and heard her babbling on about the life we shared together up north. I suppose in my new land of East Bay CA cement and traffic and people who never look at you – those books have become my secret security blanket, dragging them from one place to another, if for no other reason than to remind myself that multiple realities exist in the same time frame, and that where I am now is not the only reality inside me or anyone else for that matter.

After I got my hands on my milkshake and book I pretty much holed up in my friends cabin right outside of Fairbanks, and tried to let sounds and smells and electrical heat and hot showers (that I enjoyed thoroughly) and people, come back into being part of my daily reality.

And so there I was, a mere 48 hours after leaving the Brooks Range. Car sounds would send me flying out of the sleeping bag thinking a plane was landing on the lake – only to find me standing in the drive way in my long underwear with no lake or plane in sight. The taste of foods and spices was so overwhelming that I lost my appetite and there were many foods I couldn’t digest well anymore. People’s body language was no longer as clear to me and I spent far too long in confusion. Driving in cars felt as unreal as watching TV – I couldn’t figure out a single sane reason to be hurtling down a street in a metal box at 50 mph. I dreaded the phone, no longer familiar with its tennis match communication style. Things seemed strange and discombobulating but yet I felt healthier, stronger, more grounded and happier then I’d ever felt. I felt like I could do anything, that the future was endless in possibilities if you had a good plan and worked hard and paid attention to your surroundings. I suppose I felt empowered. I had nearly a year and a half of hard work, thinking, dreaming and planning and I had had very little societal influence of what is possible and not, of what you should be and shouldn’t be…without the constant barrage of societal opinions in the form of media, friends, family, government, schools etc. my mind, heart and body did something it had never done before – it simply lived, because living is what comes naturally when we aren’t battling the constraints of the correct way to be in ‘civilization’.

“The individual has always had to work hard to avoid being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try, you will be lonely often and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high for the privilege of owning yourself.” - Nietzsche