This Cold Heaven by Gretel Ehrlich
Seven Seasons in Greenland

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For the last decade, Gretel Ehrlich has been obsessed by an island, a terrain, a culture, and the men and women who long for and love the complex frailties and treacherous beauty of a world defined by ice.

Greenland, the world’s largest island, 840,000 square miles in extent, is covered by the largest continental ice sheet in the world.

Only the rocky fringe of its coast is habitable. There, the Inuit, the Arctic’s first explorers, have survived and thrived in the harshest of climates. For the Inuit, an ice-age, ice-adapted people who first traveled from Siberia across the polar North six thousand years ago, weather is consciousness. In a world composed of ice and darkness, water and light, where skins of dog, seal, bear, even hare and eider duck, are sewn into clothes, tents, and sleeping bags as protection, where transport is by dogsled and kayak, the only rein for the uncontrollable force of weather is an unbending self-discipline. The blend of physical endurance and psychological perseverance required for daily existence first drew Ehrlich to this terrain.

Her guide, her inspiration, her companion in spirit was the great Danish-Inuit explorer and ethnographer Knud Rasmussen. Between 1902 and his death in 1933 he launched seven expeditions: to record the unknown history and customs of the nomadic Eskimos; to chronicle the skills, beliefs,and crafts that made life in this climate possible and a matter of grace. For Rasmussen, “all true wisdom is only to be found far from the dwellings of man, in great solitudes.” As she followed his trail, Ehrlich was to find the things that can open the mind to what is hidden from others. This Cold Heaven is at once a distillation of her many journeys, a path into a world divided into darkness and light and, finally, an attempt to capture the clarity that blinds us with surprise.

About Gretel Ehrlich

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Gretel Ehrlich is the author of A Match to the Heart, among other works of non-fiction, fiction, and poetry. She divides her time between California and Wyoming.
Published October 23, 2001 by Pantheon. 400 pages
Genres: History, Political & Social Sciences, Travel, Education & Reference. Non-fiction

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Kirkus Reviews

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She experienced the shifting planes of light that “were like knives thrown in a drawer,” and the rapture of hard travel to distant places: “I had hitched a ride on a fishing boat going to Unknown Island in cold, bright sun that shone all night.” Then she rides a dogsled the daylong night over foo...

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The New York Times

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''Then, pretty soon, no one remembers how to live the other way.'' Of Greenland's four seasons -- one dark, one light and two twilight -- Ehrlich came to embrace the winter, when seas freeze into highways of ice, and traveling, hunting and sto...

Nov 18 2001 | Read Full Review of This Cold Heaven: Seven Seaso...

The Guardian

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Living on the edge of starvation in the minimum of comfort does not strike me as a very romantic or even full existence, and nor, I suspect, would those who live on the edge all over the planet - in the west as well as the far north - find much to applaud in their deprivation.

Feb 16 2002 | Read Full Review of This Cold Heaven: Seven Seaso...

Publishers Weekly

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Inspired by the expedition notes of Knud Rasmussen, the brilliant Inuit-Danish explorer and ethnographer who recorded what Ehrlich calls the "lifeways" of the Inuit people, she traveled with subsistence hunters, spending weeks at a time on ice.

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The difference between these men and adventurers like Peary and Martin Frobisher was that Rasmussen and Kent made themselves at home there, learning to read the terrain and, importantly, becoming part of the local communities they encountered.

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