wilderness : self-willed flora, fauna & minera in the community of Earth
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The remote island of Kulusuk on Greenland’s east coast is home to the Tunumi Inuit as well as a few Danes and Brits and one Frenchman. I’ve been several times, staying with Helen and Matt Spenceley, owners of Pirhuk Greenland Guides, and their friends Bendt and Manatseq Abelson, one of the village’s prominent families. In March 2018, I set off from Kulusuk by dogsled over Apoussia Glacier to the edge of the sea ice across from another village, Sermiligaaq, no longer passable in winter because of melt. I ice-fished with hunters, untangled rigging lines, struggled across the landscape in my bulky snow suit, and drove the sled a few times. At night I watched the auroras dance across the cold sky. How do we southerners, meaning anyone who lives below the 66th parallel, explain our draw to the North?
Kulusuk belongs to the larger Angmagssalik district of East Greenland, which intersects with the Arctic Circle 60 miles north of the town of Tassilaq.
"Ammassalik maps" carved in the shape of knobby poles in 1885 by Kunit, an Inuit from the Angmagssalik region, capture the coastline of East Greenland at the moment of first contact with white people. There's no evidence these beautiful wooden maps were used by Inuit for navigation in open water. They were more likely storytelling devices.
Greenland's inland ice is the second largest ice mass on Earth, at 1.7 million square kilometers. In Greenlandic, the ice is "sermersuaq," the great ice. As the inland ice disappears and glaciers recede, cartographers are recharting, remapping, and reimagining the world's largest island. The 19th-century view Europeans and Americans had of the Arctic as vast, timeless, unchanging, and untouched by humans has melted with the ice.
I’ve seen seal and whale bone carvings used as storytelling devices in Kulusuk and in Ilulissat, on Greenland’s west coast. A wooden relief map would have been the same. Geographer Robert Rundstum remarks that in 19th century Angmagssalik, the process of mapmaking was more important than the finished map. I found that to be true when I stitched a map of the region (shown above) using scraps of thrift store fabric, influenced by fiber artists like Cas Holmes. Kulusuk is a land of hard surfaces; the softness of fiber art reveals the gentle aura of the land and ice. I added my own wooden coastlines to remember stories. What kind of storytelling map will you make?
Monthly celebration of makers who are teaching / re-teaching us how to connect with the natural world and with one another.
Poet Kimberly Burwick
Kimberly Burwick was born and raised in Worcester, Massachusetts. She earned her BA in Literature from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and her MFA in Poetry from Antioch University, Los Angeles. She is author of five books of poetry including her most recent collections: Brightword (Carnegie Mellon, 2019) and Custody of the Eyes (Carnegie Mellon, 2017). She teaches at Colby-Sawyer College and lives in Meriden, New Hampshire.
Nung-hsin Hu is a Taiwanese born Los Angeles-based interdisciplinary artist who interweaves video, film, performance, sculpture, and installation in her practice. Her work intends to reveal the invisible status, articulate the unconscious, and perform the vulnerability through a poetic and whimsical approach.
"Interacting with the sights, sounds, smells, and sensations of the natural world for as little as 15 minutes calms the nervous system, reduces the stress response, and boosts the immune system."--Jodie Skillicorn
Nature and Wellness
Jodie Skillicorn's amazing book Healing Depression without Medicationadvocates connecting with the natural world for mental health. I asked Jodie to explain why this is so important, especially now. She said: "Since many of us have experienced spikes of anxiety and depression during this time of uncertainty, isolation, and political chaos, turning towards the natural world is an essential. Research shows that interacting with the sights, sounds, smells, and sensations of the natural world for as little as 15 minutes calms the nervous system, reduces the stress response, and boosts the immune system. If a pill could do all that with no side effects, we would all be on it!
Although being outside is the ideal, even looking at a photo of nature, having a plant nearby, or listening to recordings of nature's sounds can reduce stress and anxiety. We humans have co-evolved with the natural world and rely on the earth and her rhythms to regulate our nervous systems, neurotransmitters, hormones, sleep, mood, and physiology. Being cut off from the earth's energy and rhythms disrupts these systems quickly and dramatically. To take advantage of nature's immense healing powers, set aside time each day, each week, or at least each month, to go on a hike, listen to the birds, wind or rippling water, smell flowers and trees or an essential oil that calls to you, or just take off your shoes and feel the earth beneath your feet. Your mind, body, and soul will thank you."
Gifts from the curb, the street, the garden, the lawn, the path. As the leaves of November fall and turn, I want to put them to use. Leaves are hands or handprints; they are hearts or tears. Having admired the art of Andy Goldsworthy, Sylvain Meyer, Walter Mason, who transform autumn leaves into swirling patterns, I tried a collage. An ephemeral, noninvasive craft that calls attention to the natural world, connects us with it, and then is gone.
On an autumn walk:
1. PICK UP leaves, petals, branches, stones, whatever strikes you.
2. PRESS the leaves and petals in a book between wax paper or use them in whatever state you find them.
3. CREATE a calming design on the sidewalk or path. A gift to another passerby you may never meet. A design that will blow away with the next storm. Andy Goldsworthy's Ephemeral Works emphasizes that nature art isn't meant to stay.
4. If the process evokes a memory or inspires an insight you want to preserve, use the opportunity to WRITE something on the leaves of your journal. Leaves that won't blow away with the wind.
STORY | Foster Mother
Knud Rasmussen, the Inuit-Danish anthropologist of the early 20th-century, traveled the polar north collecting stories and songs. When I read his 1921 collection folktales, I was instantly drawn to the story of the old woman who lived in the Angmagssalik region of East Greenland.
This woman's hut was perched on the shore of a tiny village probably much like Kulusuk. Her neighbors, Rasmussen writes, lived above her on the rocky hillside. The woman's loneliness was second only to her hunger. Because she was wildly destitute, the hunters often brought her seal meat and blubber.
Sometimes the village men were lucky enough to kill a polar bear. In Kulusuk, I was introduced to this nanooq, this "King of the Arctic," and learned its plight.
The unforgettable Kulusuk Museum, founded by Justine and Frederik Boassen, is THE place to learn about East Greenland. Frederik and Justine recommended to me The Last Days of the Arctic, by photographer Ragnar Axelsson, showcasing the icy landscapes and the Tunumi Inuit way of life, their tight relationship with nature’s energy, like the last drum dancer, Anda Kuitse. Recently, I read Robert Macfarlane’s Underland: A Deep Time Journey, which I highly recommend, especially the chapters set in Kulusuk. Matt and Helen Spenceley led Macfarlane through tunnels and ice caves on Knud Rasmussen Glacier. Poet Helen Mort, with composer William Carslake and filmmaker Richard Jones, joined Macfarlane’s expedition and created the transdisciplinary artwork, Singing Glacier. The Ice Museum and The Library of Ice: two more fantastic books about the Arctic I revisited this month. Closer to home, the evocative tones of Amythyst Kiah’s folk music resonate this November. I’m glad to see the US Post Office has commissioned Rico Lanáat’ Worl, the Tlingit-Athabascan artist based in Juneau, Alaska, to design a new stamp called “Raven Story.” Digital delight: check out London Drawing Group's “Painting with Scissors” centered on Henri Matisse’s collage work with leaves and flowers. Matisse once said, “There are always flowers for those who want to see them.” I love that!
For more art, writing & reading about all kinds of things, visit my blog.