immobilised on the threshold of change” appealed to her older self: It was “an elegy for the uncertainties and doubts that are the chaperones of age”. And its experience involves us all — it is where our planet’s fragile equilibrium is most dramatically being put under strain. Climate change is manifesting itself in these northern reaches, with melting ice threatening to rapidly raise sea levels earth-wide and the toxins we release into the environment being carried northwards and contaminating marine life. (“In the northern hemisphere, the people who live furthest from pollutants are the ones most affected by them. A leading public health expert has said that in the 1990s, many Greenlanders were so toxic that they would have qualified as hazardous waste.”)
Where in the south is a mass of land (and ice), a continent surrounded by ocean, up north there is the Arctic Ocean surrounded by territories belonging to the United States, Canada, Denmark, Norway and Russia, lands inhabited by indigenous people in varying degrees of adaptation to their larger political affiliation and to the rapid changes that have cast them adrift from their traditional ways. Also these are territories where a frenetic scramble has picked up pace to exploit natural resources of hydrocarbons and minerals (with the melting of ice, due to global warming, newly exposed rock is revealing more such riches).
Where the southern continent is heartbreakingly beautiful, Wheeler’s accounts of folks she meets along the way and the stories she discerns are often simply heartbreaking. The Inuit in Canada’s Arctic struggling with their new life and its side-effects of obesity and alcoholism (to the extent that local supermarkets will not even sell vanilla essence). Greenlanders working out routes to independence after having swung home rule. The Solovki monastery in Russia, forcibly rid of its monks by the Red Guards in 1923 and turned into the gulag famously visited by Maxim Gorky, who wrote of finding “no resemblance to a prison” and mystified readers for generations to come.
Once again spending part of her stay with American scientists (specifically in Greenland), she found that the