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.
From the acclaimed chronicler of open spaces, Gretel Ehrlich, comes a stunning and lyrical evocation of a practically unknown place and people. Beginning in 1993, Ehrlich traveled to Greenland, the northernmost country in the world, in every season--the four months of perpetual dark (in which the average temperature is 25 degrees below zero), the four months of constant daylight, and the twilight seasons in between--traveling up the west coast, often by dogsled, and befriending the resilient and generous Inuits along the way. Greenland, unlike its name, is 95 percent ice--a landscape of deep rock-walled fjords, glaciers, narwhal whales swimming among icebergs the size of football fields, walruses busting through oceans of shifting ice. In the far north, the polar Inuit--the "real heroes"--still dress in bear and seal skins, and hunt walrus, polar bears, and whales with harpoons. The only constant is weather and the perilous movements of ice, the only transport is dogsled, and the closest village may be a month and a half-long dogsled journey away. The people share an austere and harsh life, lightened with humor and the fantastic stories of Sila, the god of weather, Nerrivik, the goddess of waters, of humans transforming themselves into animals, and interspecies marriages. Interwoven with Ehrlich's journey is the even more remarkable story of Knud Rasmussen, the founder of Eskimology, an Inuit-Danish explorer and ethnographer who took some of the most hazardous and brilliant expeditions ever, including a three and a half-year, 20,000-mile adventure by dogsled across the polar north to Alaska. Like Rasmussen, Ehrlich learns that the landscape of Greenland is "less a description of desolation than an ode to the beauty of impermanence." Alternately mind-expanding, gripping, and dreamlike, This Cold Heaven is a revelation. --Lesley Reed
“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
From the Back Cover