Its winter in the Southern Hemisphere, but Cape Town’s Mediterranean climate provides a mild, wet winter which bears no relation whatsoever to what follows, which is a book review of an adventure in the far frozen North, plus my fond recollections of a TV series set in Alaska – Northern Exposure.
Call of the Wild – Guy Grieve
What a fascinating book. Author gets fed up with his job on The Scotsman newspaper. He has a bee in his bonnet and leaves his family (his wife – who deserves a medal; plus 4 year old Oscar, and baby Luke) and he goes to Alaska for a year, to the Wilderness, 90 miles from the Arctic Circle, builds a log cabin – with some help, but not a lot, from the locals; learns to mush a dog team; survives minus 60 degree temps, cold, bears, injuries, loneliness, near starvation and above all – the cold, the terrain and hungry bears. Although there were lyrical passages about dog-sledding through the winter woods, living in a windowless, dark log cabin which was frozen INSIDE, damp and dripping, must have been more than tough. And he progressed from a dog-hater to dog-lover, due to the interaction with Frizzy – his companion, guardian, and helper. A chapter heading said “Dogs are the only animals to voluntarily befriend man”. His wilderness year ends, and he goes home to the Isle of Mull, and can’t really explain why he did it. Why do people do these extreme things? He hated office work and city life and said “there has to be more to life than this, etc”. We’ve all felt this. He seemed to need a challenge, and he sure got one.
Recalling this book brings me to the re-runs of the cult series Northern Exposure, first aired on CBS in 1990 and ended in 1995. I watched the original series, and now years later am enchanted all over again by the tales of life in Cicely, a tiny (fictional) town in Alaska, peopled with a cast of quirky characters. There’s Dr Joel Fleischmann, your stereotypical nice Jewish boy, who takes the job of town medic to repay his student loan to the state of Alaska, and finds life in the far frozen north very different to his familiar streets of New York. His surgery assistant is the taciturn, stocky Tlingit Indian, Marilyn Whirlwind, who hardly ever speaks and has a fluid approach to surgery hours and her duties. She appears to spend most of her time slowly knitting mysterious striped garments. There’s Chris, an ex-convict who’s starting life anew in Alaska, working at the local radio station, reading Whitman’s poetry over the air, reflecting on life and philosophy over the airwaves, in between community notice for lost dogs, snowmobiles for sale and local news items. I particularly enjoy Ruth-Anne, the elderly owner of Cicely’s one and only general store that stocks everything from fishing tackle to tampons and anything you care to name in between. My childhood contained shops like this, packed solidly with a wild miscellany of merchandise. Another of my favourite characters is the adolescent moose that wanders languidly down the street in the opening title sequence, accompanied by jaunty vaguely Cajun accordion music playing in the background. For me, part of the charm of Northern Exposure is the magnificent vista of mountains, lakes, snowfields, conifer and spruce trees; it’s worth watching the series for the scenery alone, never mind the highly entertaining shenanigans of the fictional characters. Apparently the series was filmed in the state of Washington, but to my African eye it looks like I thought Alaska might look. Give yourself a break and take a look : DStv on channel 122. Enjoy!