Greenland. I am reading Gretel Ehrlich’s (pictured) book which takes place in Greenland, “This Cold Heaven.” The first book I remember reading about Greenland was Lawrence Millman’s “Last Places.” That was funny, and Millman is a character in of himself.
Ehrlich’s book is much different. It’s not funny. She wasn’t a tourist in Greenland or even so much a traveler, she was a person living there for whatever time she had there (7 years on and off). So more “of” Greenland than a tourist. I found the book at Housing Works Bookstore on Crosby in Soho, a place as special as some of the books you find there. I was skeptical of “This Cold Heaven” at first and even second glance, but after reading the jacket I was hooked. It’s a very good book.
Ehrlich weaves in so much more than her own experience including that of super-explorer Knud Rasmussen and painter Rockwell Kent. Rasmussen was half Dutch and half Inuit and his search for the history of the place and its people took him from Greenland to Alaska by dogsled in an epic three year journey. And that just scratches the surface of who he was a person and what he contributed.
Like Rasmussen, Ehrlich’s focus is on the people, the Inuit and of course the land itself. Surviving the arctic creates a people who are unique on our planet. Stories of starving hunters and successful hunts follow one another like good weather after bad.
There are old stories told to Rasmussen, stories that make up spiritual life on the Inuit as well as Ehrlich’s own stories. She shares her friendships and experiences with stark and at times startling honesty. There is a certain rugged freedom and a connection to the physical; the weather, the animals, eating, sleeping and staying alive and warm.
The constant is the distance between this civilized yet harsh place and civilization as in Denmark or most anywhere else. Not just physical distance, but the distance of a Last Place, a place where disharmony with elements such as the weather can swiftly bring tragedy as it always has. A place where some people find refuge in the cold, when the streetlights and paved roads of the Great Cities seem too foreign, too unnatural. And it’s a place, if we’re right about the Planet warming, that we’ll hear more and more about.