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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Notes for the Aurora Society: New Mexico Author and Blogger Publishes First Book

Wilderness and falling down, theoretically, have nothing to do with each other. In my case, however, they are intimately intertwined.

I slipped and fell straight out of the door of the Kalamakaltion wilderness hut north of Nunnanen, Finnish Lapland. It was late August, 2003. I had over 1500 miles of walking behind me and over one hundred left to go before the Arctic Ocean. When I fell, I hit my head on a rock and felt dizzy. I fell again five minutes later and cut open my hand on another rock. The wet had turned the ATV trail to glistening mud, slick as ice. The rain fell in a steady drizzle......

Aurora New Mexico author and blogger Jim O'Donnell has just published his first book NOTES FOR THE AURORA SOCIETY.

I passed through stands of dwarf birch, partly colored for autumn. The land was swampy and moist, cut by intermittent ridges of glacial till. There were thousands of streams and ponds that interspersed velvety turf and dark Arcadian copses. The ground was covered in alpine clubmoss, mountain bearberry, downy willow, common butterwort, several saxifrage species. I passed a number of small lakes and the ATV trail ploughed through swamps and streams, as if nothing could get in its way. It stretched all the way through the Puljun Wilderness Area and into the western wilderness of the one thousand one hundred square mile Lemmonjoki National Park five miles to the north. It was used by the reindeer herders, whose camp was beyond the Peltotunturi.

I slipped and fell several more times, once face first into a shallow brook.

The Peltotunturi was a long, low table situated above the tree line. It ran northwest-southeast extending into Norway, only five miles distant. The wind was fierce there and on top I got caught in a squall of rain and snow. The visibility dropped to just a few feet. The rain actually hurt when it hit my face. I saw a mountain plover and was sure it was shivering. Fearing I might lose the trail, I pulled out my maps and compass to take a bearing on the Wilderness hut where I hoped to spend the night. That was dumb. The wind tore my 1:50 000 topo map from my hand, launching it into Norway. It also took my general 1:100 000 area map, but that, I recovered, torn, wet and shredded, from a reindeer fence a half mile across the rocks. I stuffed it in my pocket and made for the tree line below and to the north. I was soaking wet when I arrived at the reindeer camp.

Notes for the Aurora Society is the story of a 1500-mile walk through Finland. Leaving from the southernmost point of Finland, O'Donnell crossed the Finnish countryside interviewing Finns about their relationship to nature and exploring the land and the history that made modern Finland. His journey deposited him, five-months later, on the shores of the Arctic Ocean. Blending a naturalist’s ecosystem knowledge with an anthropologist’s ability to elicit unique insight into the process of culture, this work of travel literature is the first book to look at the Finnish people through their connection to the natural world.

The ferry left Turku at eight in the morning. The sea was perfectly still, but the ice had heaved and broken and patches of gray appeared through the crinkled crust. A Spanish bird watcher said that the ice was closing behind the ferry and it made him feel as if the world were closing behind him. He watched for migrants from the outer deck.

We passed through a field of large, flat, geometrically shaped ice sheets and then into open sea. The water was gray, the sky was gray and only the thin line of white ice in the distance separated the two.

The ferry had three decks. One was below the water line and used as sleeping quarters for the crew. The second was a dark hold with six small windows, a television and seventeen reclining chairs. A black Labrador retriever was curled asleep in a wire cage near the stairs. On the third deck were the sitting areas, with tables and chairs and benches. Those on the outside were bolted to the ship. From the third deck, the crew served coffee and pastries, sandwiches, beer and liquor.

In the corner of the indoor sitting area sat a group of five people: two men, a boy with an unfortunate bowl hair cut, and two women. The women were mother and daughter and they drank beer for breakfast. You could tell the women were mother and daughter by their makeup. Each had caked it on lavishly but neatly and a pronounced line under their chins marked where the makeup ended. Their bleached hair reached for the ceiling like a forest ant hill. When they stood, they reached and danced, adjusting their tight pants and tucking in their acrylic blouses. They were happy and they slapped each other’s hands to make a point. They winked at the younger men on the boat, not yet aware that their beauty had failed. Their men were sullen and silent and ashen-faced. The men drank beers too but they drank faster than the women.

Jim O’Donnell writes from Taos County where he helped lead the campaign to pass the Valle Vidal Protection Act of 2005. An expert in natural resource planning, Jim has developed watershed restoration partnerships between communities and land management agencies. An author, gardener and archaeologist, Jim holds a Master’s Degree in Community and Regional planning and is certified in Permaculture Design. He is a principal in Collaborative Green, a sustainability consulting firm based in Taos.

Jim is a frequent contributor to DailyKos and Unbossed and is an occasional contributor to DPNM. His other written work has appeared in Hyenas Laughed at Me and Now I Know Why, Catch 2, Wild, Suomen Luonto and Conceptions Southwest.

Other excerpts from Notes for the Aurora Society can be read here and here. The book can be purchased here.

January 27, 2009 at 12:02 AM in Books, Environment, Travel | Permalink