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Thread: Shopping For Porcupine: A Life in Arctic Alaska by Seth Kantner

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    Senior Member Williamsmith's Avatar
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    Shopping For Porcupine: A Life in Arctic Alaska by Seth Kantner

    Ever since I was old enough to read "Dick and Jane - Go Away Spot" or "The Weekly Reader" or picked up an aqua blue SRA program card........I have loved to read. As a young man I would get dropped off at the local library and standing before the card catalog gaze at the drawers which held the key to my discovery of far away places, exotic birds, fantastic expeditions, or development of drawing skills or music theory.

    I have always been fascinated with the Alaskan Wilderness. Maybe it was the Robert W. Service poems my dad recited to me at bedtime. "The Shooting of Dan McGrew", "The Cremation of Sam McGee". He didn't just read them from a book. He memorized them and performed them. My bedroom was a stage. I was the worthy audience. My flesh froze, the wind whipped, the snow crunched, the dogs howled....and the fires blazed.

    In the 70s a man named Dick Proenneke helped publish a book about his wilderness isolation called, "One Mans Wilderness: An Alaskan Odyssey". I read that book so many times the binding feel apart.

    Then I met my wife's great aunt in the nursing home. She wasn't your normal nursing home resident. She was 102 years old and had just finished making a quilt for our newlywed bedding. She was also the wife of Dr. John W. Goodsell, the Physician for the Admiral Peary Expedition to the North Pole, 1908-1909. John had written about his trip north on the S.S. Roosevelt and the frozen adventures and tragedies of that trip. Of course, I had to read that.

    And so in the winter, as ice freezes and thaws, as I hunt Penns Woods sometimes in the howling wind, the blowing snow and wade through thigh deep snow drifts.......I pretend to be in Alaska. It is most certainly a fantasy as I have never been farther west than Oklahoma nor farther north than Toronto. And I also am drawn to books on the Alaskan way of life in the sparse arctic.

    Shopping For Porcupines is the second of a trio of books by Seth Kantner who was born in a sod igloo in the Arctic. His first book, "Ordinary Wolves" fetched high praise from reviewers. A newer volume, "Swallowed By the Great Land" is no less celebrated. Porcupines ......is a gem of simplicity, with stunning photography sprinkled like salt on a hard boiled egg. I am not done reading but I love the literary approach, the honesty, and I suspect I'd like this guy if I met him.

    I will someday get to Alaska but until then Seth Kantner has done me a great favor transporting me via the imagination to that chilly land called Alaska. That quilt still keeps me warm by the way.

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    Senior Member razz's Avatar
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    Glad to see and read about this, WS. I will look up this writer as I love the north. Visiting it is on my to-do list after I travel Newfoundland which I will do this summer. I will do a search through interlibrary loan as my library has none of his books.

    When I graduated from university years ago, DH and I agreed that if we could go anywhere it would be the Arctic. I wrote to the governing power of the time, (can't remember who it was) and asked what was involved in moving there listing both DH's and my credentials.
    I got back a wonderful gentle but supportive letter advising us that unless we had a job contract in hand not to come. Too many had come ill-prepared for very limited conditions at the time. The consequences were harsh. The dream never left though.

    A classmate has a tour business up in the Yukon. I have considered writing to her to ask her advice of when to visitor, summer or winter, and you may just have given me the push to follow through. The Alaska cruises along the Inside Passage are not what I want to see although I am told that they are truly beautiful. I want to see what Farley Mowat and your author saw and experienced.

    Have you ever investigated the background of the Group of Seven, some of whom painted the Arctic as an antidote to the horrors of WW1? Many were the painters of the images of destruction in Europe. It is a fascinating story of how people turned to the starkness of nature to find their spirituality when faced with the extreme horror that humanity can cause.

    Thanks for posting this thread.
    Gandhi: Happiness is when what you think, what you say and what you do are in harmony .

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    Senior Member Selah's Avatar
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    I just wanted to say thank you for mentioning those SRA reading cards. They were so obscure...no one I have ever met has even referred to one. I was beginning to think I had some kind of false memory. You even mentioned the color...that very odd shade of aqua! Thanks!

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    Senior Member Williamsmith's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by razz View Post
    Glad to see and read about this, WS. I will look up this writer as I love the north. Visiting it is on my to-do list after I travel Newfoundland which I will do this summer. I will do a search through interlibrary loan as my library has none of his books.

    When I graduated from university years ago, DH and I agreed that if we could go anywhere it would be the Arctic. I wrote to the governing power of the time, (can't remember who it was) and asked what was involved in moving there listing both DH's and my credentials.
    I got back a wonderful gentle but supportive letter advising us that unless we had a job contract in hand not to come. Too many had come ill-prepared for very limited conditions at the time. The consequences were harsh. The dream never left though.

    A classmate has a tour business up in the Yukon. I have considered writing to her to ask her advice of when to visitor, summer or winter, and you may just have given me the push to follow through. The Alaska cruises along the Inside Passage are not what I want to see although I am told that they are truly beautiful. I want to see what Farley Mowat and your author saw and experienced.

    Have you ever investigated the background of the Group of Seven, some of whom painted the Arctic as an antidote to the horrors of WW1? Many were the painters of the images of destruction in Europe. It is a fascinating story of how people turned to the starkness of nature to find their spirituality when faced with the extreme horror that humanity can cause.

    Thanks for posting this thread.

    You are welcome, razz. I do not know of the Group of Seven but will now do the research. As far as cruises go, it may be the only reasonable way as I am not free to travel alone. I seem to have relationship responsibilities which I am working on improving and which probably rule out a deadheading exploration of the Alaskan interior. That "gentle....supportive letter" probably saved you from a rude awakening. Errors made in the Arctic are punished harshly without consideration for young imaginations. I predict you will enjoy this book and the others. I often am guilty of comparing my life's work to a life of great adventure such as this and am always found wanting when weighed in the balance.

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    Senior Member Williamsmith's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Selah View Post
    I just wanted to say thank you for mentioning those SRA reading cards. They were so obscure...no one I have ever met has even referred to one. I was beginning to think I had some kind of false memory. You even mentioned the color...that very odd shade of aqua! Thanks!
    An avid reader in grammar school, I took to the SRA program with enthusiasm. What little I remember is flavored with a feeling of being rewarded by the teacher when my regular work was done by being allowed to go independently to the SRA box and work on getting to the next color. I suppose for others the SRA box represented nothing but a struggle and a marker of dissatisfaction from the teacher. This I could not have been aware of because I was so engrossed in the act of learning, quizzing and achieving. The colors themselves seem to be as important as the reading and the glossy finish of the cards added to the tactile senses. Still, as hard as I worked to be the first one to make it to brown or was it purple, I was always second behind Janet Hamilton. She turned out to be my High School class valedictorian and at least twice as bright as I ever dreamed of being. A lesson that took twelve years to play out and a lifetime learning to live with.

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    Wow, the SRA reading cards--have not thought about those for a long time.
    Did you learn to read in first grade with Dick and Jane? I always thought Sally was kind of namby-pamby.

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    I was unfortunately way way ahead in reading ability before entering school and school was a big bore even with the SRA cards and rewards. My dad read us the whole Robinson Crusoe when we all were young. My brothers said he read it to us in the closet for atmosphere. I was reading armloads of books from the library which was our store of choice. Loved those wooden card holders and could hardly contain my excitement to be able to read the "adult section" books.

    I was raised in Alaska. There are loads of interesting books on the subject of life in Alaska. One I read was about 1930 Wiseman "village" way up north. Another hard to find one is about living on the Aleutian Islands and raising beef. Hard life.

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