400 pages, illustrations
In an unforgettable tribute to the far latitudes, Gretel Ehrlich travels across Greenland, the largest island on earth. Greenland is the largest island on earth. All but five percent of it is covered by a vast ice sheet, an enduring remnant of the last ice age. Despite a uniquely hostile environment, it has been inhabited continuously for thousands of years. Greenlanders retain many of their traditional practices. Some still hunt on sleds made from whale and caribou with packs of dogs; others fashion harpoons from Narwhal tusks; entranced shamans make soul fights under the ice. The modern population lives on the edge of a stone- and ice-age world and has reached a unique understanding of it.
Ehrlich mixes stories of European anthropologists who have recorded the ways of the Inuit, with artists who have lived briefly on Greenland's fringe in order to try to capture its extraordinary pure light. She travels across this unearthly landscape in the company of men and women who have a deep bond with it, and with them she discovers the realm of the Great Dark, ice pavilions, polar bears and Eskimo nomads. She learns about hunting and endurance, inuit languages, legends and ghosts. Conjuring up Greenland's cruel, beautiful landscape, she shows that it is a land endowed with magical and mysterious properties. St Brendan, the sixth century Irish monk, described one of its huge glaciers as 'a floating crystal castle the colour of a silver veil, yet hard as marble and the sea around it as smooth as glass and white as milk.' It has lost none of its power to enthral.
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Gretel Ehrlich is the author of many works of non-fiction, fiction and poetry, including A Match to the Heart (Fourth Estate 1995), The Solace of Open Spaces; Heart Mountain; and Islands, the Universe, Home. She divides her time between California and Wyoming.