Thursday, August 15, 2013

North of Hope

This one is for you, Deanne. Last night at dinner you asked someone what she'd been reading this summer, but before you got your answer the conversation was diverted off in another direction. So I'll answer the question for you.

Earlier this summer I read North of Hope: A Daughter's Arctic Journey by Shannon Huffman Polson. When I read about Shannon's book in Response, Seattle Pacific University's alumni magazine, I learned that her parents had been killed by a grizzly bear in the Alaska wilderness, and this was her journey to retrace their steps. "The book deftly weaves strands of her journey down the Hulahula River to the campsite where her parents were killed, together with memories of her family, and with memories of rehearsing and performing Mozart's Requiem as a way to mourn their death." (Response)

Why would I want to read a book about such a serious, heart-wrenching experience? I don't know, I just knew I wanted to read it.

Shannon's braiding of the many story lines drew me in from the start. She moved me in and out of the past, the present, Alaska, Seattle, music, books, travel, pain and joy like a canoe on an unpredictable river. Sometimes I had to pull the canoe to shore, to spend a bit of time camped on the river bank, pondering where the river had taken me. Rapids, I knew, could be just around the next bend.

She sometimes spoke of feelings beyond my own experience; she grappled with relationships and meaning  and, of course, deep grief. Sometimes I was with her in her boat. Other times I was above her, looking down from the small plane that dropped her off at the Hulahula River. I watched her pack up her parents' house and sat with her as she finally sang the Requiem. And when at last I finished the book, I could not put it down.

From one of Tim's Alaska camping trips
I talked to Tim, my brother in Anchorage, after reading North of Hope. "I wonder if you knew Richard Huffman," I asked him. "I think he went to your church. He and his wife were killed by a grizzly bear in 2005." "Yes," Tim replied. "I sang in the church choir with him. And I sang a solo at his memorial service."

It turns out that at the very same time I was reading Shannon's book, Tim was on a road trip to the Arctic as well, due west of the Hulahula River. His route was much more traveled, taking him to Prudhoe Bay. Still he was in the wilds, and I began to appreciate that the many road trips he has taken during his years in Alaska always put him closer to danger than I had understood before.

North of Hope gave insight into the geography and the history of the Arctic. For example, did you know that, from the air, you can look down on tundra polygons, actual designs in the ice? They are formed "when the freezing earth cracks, contracting from extreme cold." There's more to the description, you'll find it on page 145 when you read the book. I should have kept a file on all the interesting information I gained from the book.

Mostly North of Hope stirred my soul. I know you'd like it, Deanne. Your love of adventure would be greatly satisfied in the reading, as well as your willingness to deal with the deeper issues of life. Let me know what you think of it.

Do you have any recommendations for me?

2 comments:

Shannon Huffman Polson said...

Ginger, thank you so much for this thoughtful review. The connections are amazing. And thank you for making ME cry- in a good way!

Sarah Manke said...

I, too, had read the article in the SPU "Response"....and want to read "North of Hope" as well. It was wonderful to read your blog about this, and to learn that Tim had sung at her father's & mother's memorial service.

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