For the last decade, Gretel Ehrlich has been obsessed by an island, a terrain, a culture, and the treacherous beauty of a world that is defined by ice. In This Cold Heaven she combines the story of her travels with history and cultural anthropology to reveal a Greenland that few of us could otherwise imagine.
Ehrlich unlocks the secrets of this severe land and those who live there; a hardy people who still travel by dogsled and kayak and prefer the mystical four months a year of endless darkness to the gentler summers without night. She discovers the twenty-three words the Inuit have for ice, befriends a polar bear hunter, and comes to agree with the great Danish-Inuit explorer Knud Rasmussen that “all true wisdom is only to be found far from the dwellings of man, in great solitudes.” This Cold Heaven is at once a thrilling adventure story and a meditation on the clarity of life at the extreme edge of the world.
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“Thrilling. . . . A stunning portrait of a people and the landscape that shaped them.” –The New York Times Book Review
“Told by a voice in love with the light and ice and rippling, infinite beauty of the Arctic north. This Cold Heaven boldly captures the unyielding beauty and spontaneous wonders of life on the icecap.” —The Boston Globe
“Ehrlich has accomplished an extraordinary feat: she has taken a forbiddingly beautiful, haunting and alien landscape and depicted it in equally beautiful and haunting prose.” –Seattle Times
“Gripping. [A] realm of gemlike icebergs, yowling sled dogs, writhing aurora borealis and stalwart, wisecracking hunters.” —San Francisco Chronicle
“Haunting and reflective . . . captures the essence of the Artic.” –Portland Oregonian
“Compelling. . . . At once an engaging history of the Inuit . . . and an affectionate profile of Ehrlich’s Greenlandic friends and their vanishing way of life.” –National Geographic
“Her adventures are wonderfully enlightening about the world way above the treeline. She writes beautifully.” –The Washington Times
“No one who reads this wonderful book will ever forget these singular people or the austerities of the land they inhabit.” –Thomas McGuane
“Get Ehrlich on a sled racing across unknown ice and she’ll carry you bodily into another place and time, another fast-disappearing way of life.” –Ann Jones, The Women’s Review of Books
“A lyrical blend of travel, meditation and history . . . [and] a hymn to the Inuit people’s rootedness in landscape and tradition.” —Times Literary Supplement
“[Ehrlich’s] does a masterful job of creating a nuanced sense of place.”–Conde Nast Traveler
How I came to write THIS COLD HEAVEN:
This Cold Heaven is a nonfiction narrative about the lives and history of the Inuit people who have lived in Greenland for almost five thousand years. The book is many things: a personal narrative of my time in Greenland, traveling with subsistence Inuit hunters, staying with Danish and Inuit friends in villages and towns, all gathered over a period of seven years. I have lived in Greenland in every season, during the dark time and have traveled and lived on the ice during the bright all-night spring months. Interlaced with my modern narrative are excerpts from Knud Rasmussen’s expedition notes written at the turn of the last century, between 1917 and 1924, in the hopes that the reader will come away with an idea of the spiritual and material life of the Inuit hunter and villager before modernization.
I first went to Greenland on assignment for Islands Magazine in 1993, and before the first week was out, I knew I could write a book there. Cold-hardened by seventeen winters on a Wyoming ranch, I had long been interested in Arctic culture after winter visits to Alaska and a month at a biologist’s spring camp on the ice in the high Canadian Arctic near Resolute. I’d had a taste, but I wanted more. It was suggested that I go to Greenland because they still travel and hunt dogsled there—in Canada and Alaska they have given the dogsled up for snowmobiles, thus enslaving themselves to the world of economy.
Once in Greenland I could only think of going back. Over and over again. Returning from every hunting trip, I always dragged my foot in the snow to slow the sled down. . . . That’s how reluctant I was to leave. Every season I went further north until I finally reached Qaanaaq and Siorapaluk, the northernmost continuously inhabited villages in the world. There I found the heart of Inuit hunting life, much as it had been 100 or 1000 years ago, and was graciously allowed to be a passenger on their dogsleds.