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NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2021, OUR 25TH YEAR
 
 
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BOOK REVIEW: JOURNEY THROUGH FIRE AND ICE:
Shattered Dreams Above the Arctic Circle, by Deanna Burch
 
 
by Steve Giordano, photos courtesy of Deanna Burch
 

 

In 1964, newlyweds Deanne Burch and her husband Tiger lived for a time on Kivalina, Alaska, a barrier island 23 miles above the Arctic Circle. It’s north of the Bering Straights and southwest of Barrow.

Deanne says, “I think my husband Tiger was an Inuit in a previous life - even as a boy he drew intricate Inuit houses.” He had been to Kivalina once before doing anthropology research for his Ph.D. and within months of his marriage to Deanne he planned to go back for an extended stay. This was 1964, and for a 23-year-old newlywed who went through her teen years in the 50s, she knew her duty was to accompany him, no matter what her opinion of the enterprise was.

“I didn’t want to go, I thought he would change his mind, but he didn’t. Tiger was the foremost expert in Arctic life during his lifetime. Research was very important to him.”

She went.

  Kivalina in winter  
     
Present-day Kivalina in winter
 

In spite of no water, electricity or plumbing on Kivalina, Tiger took to life there like a seal to sea ice. His research was participatory in that he tried to live as much like a local as he could. He fished with the men, hunted, traveled by dogsled - anything the men did he was welcome to join in. Tiger and Deanne did take two camping trips together - winter and summer. The winter dogsled trip was marred by their tent burning down because of an accident. They barely survived to get back to Kivalina.

  Kivalina children eating   Deanne Burch cutting up seal  
 
Kivalina children eating beluga flipper

Deanne cutting up a seal with village resident Austin Thomas trying to help
 

But the women? Deanne tried to join in their activities as much as they would allow, and they didn’t allow a lot. She had to teach herself seal-skinning but the women were puzzled why a white woman would want to do such a thing. They all knew Tiger from his earlier visit, but Deanne was new and the warm-up process was long, grueling and lonely for her. She could have returned to the Lower 48 on a moment’s notice but she felt it was her duty to stick it out as long as Tiger did.

Kivalina hunting under the midnight sun
Hunting under the midnight sun

A new fire disaster did cut their time on Kivalina after seven months. A propane fire blew up in Tiger’s face. He almost died, but a series of remarkable doctors kept him alive for his flights to mainland hospitals at home. Meticulous and repeated plastic surgeries over a period of months put Tiger back in commission, and what do you think he wanted to do? Go right back to Kivalina as soon as he was able.

Once again Deanne gulped down her common sense and kept her mouth shut, and went with Tiger back to Kivalina. This time to a tent because the house they were in when the fire struck was unlivable.

This visit of four months was actually a better time for Deanne than before. By returning with her husband, she showed the women something they could admire. They were much more inclusive and she actually did a lot of research for her husband based on stories the women told her of their own lives.

As to financing the trip, Deanne said, “I never thought about this. Maybe a grant. Financially he could do whatever he wanted, but I never even asked, I was so naive.

“We just went and I went along with him.”

  Kivalina girls visiting the Burch tent in 1965   Children on Kivalina beach 1965  
 
Girls visiting our tent - 1965
Children on Kivalina beach - 1965
 

They didn’t have to hunt and forage for all their food. Much of it came from the land and sea, but they did order a lot of canned food from Fairbanks. It arrived on a cargo ship that came twice a year.

“It was very difficult - he was obsessed with his work,” Deanne said in an interview. “He thought it would be easy for a wife, but he was always off hunting with the men. I was left at home waiting for him to come back. The local women were used to that but I wasn’t."

She added that Tiger brought work home for her - like seals to skin, but in the end it all made their relationship stronger.

“The fire was a setback for his whole life," she says now. "It influenced everything in our life; he no longer could do the things he wanted to do. He wanted to do another year but didn’t think he could. His lungs were damaged from the fire for his entire life. He couldn’t survive another winter up there.”

But Tiger did complete his research on Kivalina. He wrote many, many books on life in the Arctic, and Deanne feels he gave the Inuit’s history to their people. He taught at the University of Manitoba.

  Kivalina women sewing seal skins to cover a wooden boat frame   Kivalina learning in one room school house  
 
Women sewing seal skins to cover a wooden boat frame
Learning in one room school house

 

What audience did Deanne have in mind for her book? Women. “I was hoping that if I could triumph over tragedy, they could too. It’s aimed at women, but men are enjoying it just as much as women. The reviews say it should be a movie."

I agree, but don’t wait for it - just read the book. Journey Through Fire and Ice: Shattered Dreams Above the Arctic Circle is an unforgettable memoir of a time the author cannot forget and does not regret in any way.

Is this book a memoir? “Definitely," Deanne says, "because it’s all true, not a work of fiction. I had always planned to write it. My husband didn’t particularly want me to write it, not knowing what it would say.”

She says now, “I realized in the end that I had experienced what was incredible, that no other woman I know had an experience like that. I can still feel everything that happened, picture the village and people as they were back then. I’m just glad that I had that experience and lived to tell about it.”

  Cover of Journey Through Fire and Ice  

Deanne spent 30 years as a professional international photographer who taught and lectured in the U.S. and Canada. She published several articles in photography magazines and journals. Since retiring in 2014, she devoted herself to writing short stories and children’s stories. Journey Through Fire and Ice: Shattered Dreams Above the Arctic Circle was published in March 2021.

Deanne Burch

 
         

For more information, please visit www.Deanneburch.com, or follow her on Facebook at @DeanneBurchAuthor.
 
Journey Through Fire and Ice: Shattered Dreams Above the Arctic Circle
Publisher: Authority Publishing
ISBN-10: ‏1949642593
ISBN-13: ‎978-1949642599
$19.99

Note: Kivalina people are Iñupiat, more broadly known as Inuit. They used to be called, and called themselves, Eskimos.

  Steve Giordano   Web manager Steve Giordano, past president of the Society of American Travel Writers, is a veteran ski and travel journalist & photographer whose work has appeared in newspapers, magazines, books, radio and television and many places around the Internet. He's written four travel books. Steve is the designer and technologist of HighOnAdventure.com and was the online and guidebook editor of SkiSnowboard.com. He is a member of the North American Snowsports Journalists Association.