Monday, February 4, 2008

Ecological Footprints

Ordinary Wolves is the Milkweed National Prize winning, coming-of-age novel by Seth Kantner. Cutuk Hawcly, raised in a sod igloo by a father who wanted his children to experience true wilderness before it was gone, bears witness to the relentlessness of surviving, the advance of civilization, the destruction of the wilderness, and the clash of cultures. He rarely makes judgment on the Eskimo life lived like a train wreck, or excuses for what the twentieth century brought to Alaska, though Ordinary Wolves clearly illustrates that when the government asserts its authority in a people's life, all of its attempts to rectify wrongs it has created creates more havoc. Cutuk lives in a world where everything is recycled and art is as less valuable than the fire it feeds. Canvas, paper, or plastic? Bath or shower? Flush the john or let things mellow? Organic? Hybrid? Handmade? When all the answers are irrelevant, the questions become superfluous.

Kantner’s first novel is not a tour of a Disney North, and glorifies nothing. Yet he brings us along, letting us see the wilderness Abe Hawcly gifted to his son. And when we have no answers, we too become witnesses. What happens after that, I do not know.

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