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Posts Tagged ‘Arctic’

Who inspires you?

In art, beauty, behavior, blogging, books, culture, journalism, life, nature, work on February 6, 2013 at 12:08 am

I’m lucky enough, for now, that the basics are covered: income, savings, health, good marriage, interesting work, a few new and intriguing projects, good friends.

It’s a lot, I know, and it’s come after a few years of fairly terrifying hanging on by the fingernails as the recession hit — my third in 20 years in New York.

What I crave now, possibly more than anything, is inspiration.

It’s been a word in use since 1300 and, technically, means to draw breath into one’s lungs — something I’ve been doing with difficulty for three weeks due to bronchitis. So I do badly want to breathe deeply and easily, but I also want the other sort, seeing something great in others and finding a way to incorporate it or emulate it in my own life.

Over the past week, I’ve been reading some books about the craft of writing. I was really looking forward to learning something so cool and compelling it would re-new my excitement about writing. Something, (forgive how arrogant this sounds), I didn’t already know after 30 years of writing for a living.

Meh.

It’s like trying to appreciate the exquisite beauty of Satie or Chopin or Couperin by practicing scales. Yes, all the notes are there, but they’re not making you sigh in appreciation and awe at what someone has done with them.

So I picked up a book written in 1986, “Arctic Dreams”, by Barry Lopez, which won the National Book Award.

Topography of the Beaufort Sea area

Topography of the Beaufort Sea area (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Now that’s inspiration!

He writes with tremendous delicacy and insight and I’ve already learned a slew of new-to-me words, like crang and flensing and saxifrages. I never read books about nature or natural history, so I wasn’t sure I’d like it, but I do love the Arctic, a place I visited for a mere 24 hours, on assignment for the Montreal Gazette, in December 1987.

I’ve never experienced anything so alien, beautiful and mysterious and have been dying ever since to return.

Lopez so skilfully limns this place, with observations both simple and profound.

On the tiny, stunted trees one finds so far north:

Much of the tundra, of course, appears to be treeless when, in many places, it is actually covered with trees — a thick matting of short, ancient willows and birches. You realize suddenly that you are wandering around on top of a forest.

I love the naked delight he shares with us, the startled realization he felt and wants us to feel as well.

Or this:

Imagine your ear against the loom of a kayak paddle in the Beaufort Sea, hearing the long, quivering tremolo voice of the bearded seal. Or feeling the surgical sharpness of an Eskimo’s obsidian tool under the stroke of your finger.

These sentences are, to my ear, exquisite. They make me want to read and re-read them. They make me want to close the book so I can savor them and think about them.

His word choices are deliciously specific: tremolo, the alliteration of “surgical sharpness”, the naming of obsidian (gorgeous word!), not the vaguer “stone”. And the “stroke of your finger” — not the pad of your finger (which I think he might have written.)

It’s been a long time since I’ve read such good writing it makes me want to de-construct it so see why it moves so smoothly and efficiently. So much of what I read is a broken-down jalopy — Lopez opens the door to a smooth, seductive ride in a literary Bentley.

Arctic whaling in the eighteenth century. The ...

Arctic whaling in the eighteenth century. The ships are Dutch and the animals depicted are Bowhead Whales. Beerenburg on Jan Mayen Land can be seen in the background. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m envious of his skill — but also (yay!) inspired to try to whatever I can, whenever possible, to reach this level of excellence. (I was also amused, and delighted, to read the name of a friend’s husband on the very first page of Lopez’ acknowledgements, Kerry Finley, a Canadian expert in bowhead whales.)

In your personal life or your professional life, who inspires you and why?

Is it someone you know personally or someone you admire from a distance?

Ten Things I Value Most

In antiques, art, behavior, books, domestic life, life, Style, women on March 14, 2011 at 1:26 pm
Canadian Passport

This is one of them! Image via Wikipedia

Having recently gone through all my Mom’s things, fast, as required to move her into a nursing home, I’ve been thinking much harder about what possessions I value most, and why.

I was awed, and saddened and humbled, by my Mom’s willingness to sort through soft red leather boots and Japanese prints and clothes and say “Toss!”, knowing there was simply no room in her new room and no extra storage space there.

So I returned home to my New York one-bedroom apartment and started thinking hard about what I value most, physically, and why:

Three small bears:

One is tiny, the height of my thumb, a Steiff bear in black and white with moveable arms and legs. I went off to boarding school at the age of eight, and every Sunday, was trotted off to church. I couldn’t stand it, so this dear small bear nestled nicely in my pocket or sat between the prayer books and hymnals in the shelf behind the pew. He kept me sane.

The small white bear is someone who’s been in my life as long as I can remember. He is very worn, his fur mostly gone, and has a quizzical expression I treasure, and often share. He’s been all over the world with me, stuffed uncomplainingly into a pocket of a suitcase, delighting and amusing chambermaids — who know I’m older than five.

The soapstone bear, aka Spring Bear, was carved in an Arctic village for me by an Inuit man my father met while making a film there. He fits into the palm of my hand and has a lovely shy aspect to him. I’ve had him since I was little, and he always made me deeply curious about the Arctic and all the people out there waiting for me to meet.

My passport

Indispensable. I’ve been traveling across borders since I was an infant and my parents drove from Vancouver, Canada (my birthplace) to Mexico (where I’ve since visited many times.) On any given day, I can easily misplace my cellphone or hairbrush but I always know exactly where my passport is and when it expires. Passport = freedom!

My camera

I started shooting when I was about 15, and wanted to become a professional photographer. A family friend loaned me his Pentax SLR and, while a high school senior, I sold three color photos to Toronto Calendar magazine. I realized early I had talent, and could sell it into a competitive marketplace. Cool! I’ve since had my photos published by Time, The Washington Post, New York Times and others. Some of my most precious items are the photos I’ve taken, whether the Eiffel tower under glass (in a Paris department store) or the Rockies at dawn. I use a Canon G7, digital.

My pen

I love my alumunim Lamy fountain pen, and its ink cartridges in blue, black and purple. As a writer, I always need a pen handy. I love how sensual and beautiful even the most mundane writing — the phone bill! — can be with a nice pen.

Scarves

These are my number one style signifier: silk, cashmere, wool, cotton, linen. I am rarely, in any season, without a colorful muffler or scarf of some kind. Faves include a leopard-print linen (bought at Nordstrom), two Hermes carres (Christmas gifts) and four crinkled silk mufflers so long and wide they double as shawls, in cream, dark brown, fuchsia and ashes of roses. (Banana Republic.)

Rings

I have a tradition of buying jewelry to commemorate special occasions, so have rings I bought for my 26th. birthday (Montreal, antique cameo and marcasite) and a sterling one (Saks, Barry Kieselstein Cord, on sale), I giddily purchased the day I sold my first book. I love the heart-shaped pearl and sapphire ring my mom gave me many years ago, the one I’d already spotted in a favorite store and never told her I loved. She knew! On the most stressful days, I armor up with a few of them.

Antique Textiles

This started with my Mom, who traveled the world alone for many years. She came home with mantas, molas and exquisite cashmere Indian shawls, the original pashminas. Her love for these materials ignited mine, and I now buy early textiles whenever I can find them, wearing some,  and using others to make throw pillows. These include an orange-and-cream crane-printed Japanese silk obi sash, 1930s blue and white check linen found in a Paris flea market and 19th. century paisley wool shawls, both printed and woven.

Cookbooks

I love to cook! Having happy people eating food around our table is such a pleasure. I knew the sweetie and I had a shot (now 11 years together) when we started dating and had the same, fantastic cookbook, Bistro Cooking.

What are some of the items you most treasure?

Why?

Qanukkanniq? Ten Years After Nunavut's Creation, Canada's Inuit Are Still Screwed

In culture, politics, world on October 27, 2009 at 8:54 am
A medium size almost finished igloo. Note the ...

Image via Wikipedia

Ten years after the creation of Canada’s newest territory — Nunavut — its problems remain the same, a new report suggests. While craving greater autonomy from the federal government, it still needs boatloads of cash. This year, its residents will receive $1 billion (Canadian) in direct federal funding, $32,373 per capita. Education and employment still lag far behind the country’s other provinces.

The Globe and Mail says:

“Nunavut is the only Canadian jurisdiction without mental-health treatment and rehabilitation facilities, despite rampant substance abuse and sky-high suicide rates. An addictions and mental-health strategy is imperative, the report states.”

I’ve been to the Arctic, to a small Quebec town called Salluit, on a reporting trip for the Montreal Gazette. The social problems were shocking. Bored kids were sniffing gasoline and dying in snowbanks. The local community center, built atop permafrost, had so warped the walls were bound together with enormous metal struts and the rooms were unusable. A town swimming pool was being used to store raw sewage. Most people had no toilets but used “honeybuckets”, a large metal garbage can, lined with plastic, topped by a toilet seat. Because of the appalling sanitary conditions, kids often suffered diarrhea and stayed home from school.

I spent all of 24 hours there but have never forgotten the grinding, shocking poverty that is often normal life in the Arctic.

One of the issues the report calls for is much stronger opposition to anti-sealing campaigns. I wonder how PETA’s fanatics would feel about shitting into a honeybucket.

Panaqs, Char and Serious Bragging Rights — Scuba Diving In The Arctic

In travel on October 10, 2009 at 6:39 pm
High Arctic from a helicopter

Image via Wikipedia

If you’ve never been north of 60, as in the 60th paralell, which demarcates the Arctic circle, it’s really a trip worth taking. Yes, it’s expensive. No, you you’re not going for the cuisine or the shopping or the nightlife — beyond the astonishing Northern lights. I was very fortunate and was sent that far north on a story for the Montreal Gazette and flew  — more than six hours north of Montreal — to a village called Salluit, pop. 500. The locals came out in full force to meet our tiny airplane, which landed on ice and snow. I have only once seen a place of such eerie and simple beauty, (the Grand Canyon), where the subtle shifts in light that happen every minute of the day are as obvious; when all you have is white, it takes on a hundred shades and tones.

If you’re an adventure traveler and love to scuba dive — try the Arctic.

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