Shopping for Porcupine
Seth Kantner, Shopping for Porcupine: A Life in Arctic Alaska (Minneapolis: Milkweed Editions, 2008).
Seth Kantner charmed me with his semi-autobiographical novel, “Ordinary Wolves.” His memoir is rich with his story and the incredibly complex dynamics of the the changes that have occurred in the Arctic in the span of his lifetime. He has grown up and become the father in his story. And the struggle to make a life that is faithful to the old ways, while realistic about the realities of the present is incredibly complex. The book is at once hopeful and sad.
In addition to the wonderfully easy writing style that Kantner displays, the book sis lusciously illustrated with color photographs. For someone like me with dreams of visiting Alaska, the beautiful photographs make the state and his life seem quite appealing. And therein lies a bit of the problem. The old ways with which he grew up are altered by the demands of those of us in the outside to have access for tourism, visits and more. Often we are simply unable or unwilling to endure what is required to make our visits low impact. We want roads and places that are accessible by airplane. Our presence alters the dynamics of the animals and the people. And our insatiable demand for oil has changed the face of the Arctic forever. The impact of global warming is another change in which we have participate.
Kantner, however, is not writing an eulogy for the wild places. He celebrates his ability to raise his daughter in this unique setting and to provide her with some of the experiences that shaped him as he came of age in Alaska.
The book is a treasure and Kantner’s delightful writing style helps some of us who are looking in from a distance gain sufficient respect that if and wen we do visit, perhaps we will be more careful, more willing to walk and snowshoe and less willing to add to the problems of this fascinating country.