Posts Tagged ‘Ordinary Wolves’

I have been reading an outstanding novel, Ordinary Wolves by Seth Kanter, for about the past month. Ordinarily I get through books more quickly, but with the holidays came an influx of visitors, late nights, and busy days that cut into my normal reading time.

Sometimes, when I struggle to get through a book it is a reflection on my connection to the story, or more accurately lack thereof. In this instance, in addition to being waylaid by the holidays, I fear the opposite. I have identified with Cutuk, the main character of the story, and find myself fearful of what discoveries may lay ahead for Cutuk, and what insight they may offer into my own internal struggles.

So, yesterday I put Ordinary Wolves away for a while, leaving Cutuk at his home in bush Alaska, where he has just returned to from the Anchorage metropolis.

Instead I turn to a book where I hope to find less emotional consequence and more intellectual, possibly surreal, challenge and entertainment; 2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl by Daniel Pinchbeck.

I came across this book by accident, at some point I either received via e-mail or saw a review of it. The basic premise is that humanity is advancing for a period of transition, a crucible, through which we will emerge in a new and improved state. Evolution, if you will.

I can’t argue with the thought of a new world order, or a sense it is upon us. But my usual approach is more pragmatic, more about protecting our environment, building green buildings and fostering the growth of sustainable communities. 2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl takes a more metaphysical approach, looking at humanity’s coming challenges from a mythical and consciousness standpoint, approaching the question perpendicularly to my usual approach.

In short, in contrast to and to dissolve my emotional attachment to the Ordinary Wolves’ characters, I’m going to stand my thinking on its head for a while.

To my wife’s chagrin, I quite often do the same with movies. Perhaps it’s a male trait, but I generally avoid movies that threaten any type of emotional connection. I like movies, and sometimes books, like Lord of the Rings. There is a good story, likable characters, entertaining, but nothing that I can identify with too strongly or that will touch my heart too deeply. I mean, I have hairy feet, but not that hairy. And I wear shoes. I don’t have pointy ears, no sword, and no magic ring- though certain people would say that my wedding ring has a way of making me disappear. (A recent movie that touched me and continues to have me thinking is The Motorcycle Diaries, but any discussion of that movie here would be a digression that even I can’t bear.)

Cutuk, on the other hand, is someone I can identify with. And do.

Enter Quetzalcoatl. Even though Daniel Pinchbeck’s (from here on referred to as Daniel) memoir is a trip through reality (his), it promises to be an intellectual, and possibly spiritual, journey. As I begin his book, I don’t see the same connection developing as I have with Cutuk’s fictional character.

However, there do appear to be some interesting comparisons.

Daniel grew up in New York, the son of artist parents, Cutuk in bush Alaska, I in rural Wyoming and South Dakota.

Daniel’s world consisted of concrete and steel, and people, always people. I imagine the backgrounds sounds of his childhood as the hum of traffic, the buzz of crowds, and the jolt of construction equipment mixed with the unmistakable smells of the city- exhaust, refuse, street side coffee shops and bakeries.

The setting for Cutuk’s youth is rural, remote bush Alaska in an isolated sod structure that served as his home. The only reliable companions were the sled dogs, the voles and shrews that inhabited the house with them, his Dad, brother and sister, and last but not least the wilderness and all that it encompasses. Sounds include the birds, flittering around the willows by their home, the crack and popping of the ice on the river, breaking up after the long winter, and the howl of dogs waiting for food. Cutuk’s fictional smells would be of early morning coffee, caribou stew on the stove, the must and mildew of the soil, the crisp freshness of an approaching snow storm, the blood of a fresh kill.

I grew up somewhere in between, though likely closer to Cutuk than Daniel. There were people, though not many. We spent our time on our farm or at my grandparents, where going to town meant a 30-45 minute drive to a town of a few thousand people at most. My most reliable companions were my two brothers, my horse and other pets.

I remember the smells of my mother’s cooking, the blood of a freshly killed deer, and the sweet, musky odor of a freshly broken open bale of hay. I remember the whistle and rumble of the train where it passed by our farm, the wind- which never completely goes away on the high eastern slope of the continental divide, and the echoing thunder across the Wyoming high desert plains- followed by the smell of freshly washed sage.

People remained distant in our day to day existence, an oddity that remains with me to this day. There was always home, and the banks of the Big Horn River safe from their imposition, and the accepting nuzzle of a horse’s soft nose, the understanding in their deep, brown eyes. People weren’t nearly so accepting.

Cutuk regularly got beat up by Eskimo children when visiting the village, Daniel got mugged by poor kids from the nearby projects, I got pushed around by the town kids when I started school in town and again when we moved near the reservation in South Dakota, where a white kid needed to learn their place or face the consequences.

Daniel learned to live in a world of people, an artificial creation. Cutuk has just returned to the wilderness leaving people behind (my breaking away point in the story). I’m still learning to balance tolerance for people (I think the clinical name for such an affliction might be social anxiety), even learning to enjoy them, with my desire to follow Cutuk’s tracks into the uninhabited wilderness.

Each of us, fictional Cutuk, urban Daniel, and me, all see impending doom in mankind’s arrogant and continuous destruction of the natural world.

And we three seem to share a disdain for the religion of our time, the worship of material things (and thus money). To Cutuk money had little to no value, it won’t buy you survival in the wilderness nor meaning in your life. Daniel’s epiphany about money and the artificial construct that gives it meaning came about under the influence of hallucinogens. I didn’t need a hallucinogen.

In fact, maybe a hallucinogen would have the opposite effect on me, a couple mushrooms or a tab of LSD and this modern world might all make sense. No thanks, I fear for my sanity enough already, and I never liked rainbows anyways.

The reality is Daniel, Cutuk, and me are all searching for a common thing, the meaning of life. An endless search perhaps, where the only certain thing is that the search will not end until the answer finds us. The answer, of course, being death.

This all brings me back to Ordinary Wolves and my unwillingness to finish the book, at least right now. I fear for Cutuk, and what he might discover in the final chapters of the book, and with him what I might uncover about myself.

And so, like many Alaskans this time of year, I’ll take a break from the cold and dark, not by going to Mexico as so many do, but by letting my mind wander the mysticism and prophecies of their ancient god, Quetzalcoatl.

Then I’ll return to Alaska, to winter, and to returning daylight, to travel with Cutuk to the conclusion of his journey, and perhaps one of my own.

Read Full Post »