Deanne Burch was 23 and newly engaged when her husband to be, Ernest “Tiger” Burch, announced that after their marriage, he wanted to spend two years in the village of Kivalina, Alaska, a barrier island 83 miles above the Arctic circle. Tiger Burvh was planning a dissertation on the lives of the Inuit natives who lived in Kivalina.
Burch was in love, so agreed to accompany her husband to Alaska. However, Burch was unused to what she would encounter, the weather, the days of darkness and the very small Kivalina home with no electricity, running water or indoor plumbing. Her experiences are chronicled in her book Journey through Fire and Ice: Shattered Dreams Above the Arctic Circle.
Actually Burch wrote the book from afar. She’s a grandmother now, but it’s amazing the detail she remembers looking back at her Alaskan experience. I could be a grandmother as well, so I knew the times she was talking about and experienced the cold, the loneliness and lack of conveniences with her, Her writing style carried me along through good times and bad, and I couldn’t wait to get back to this book.
Here’s an excerpt:
“Tiger was still asleep after his night of duck hunting, but I am sitting in the kitchen with a cup of coffee remembering our wedding. Last year I went to the beauty salon and had my hair done. I felt beautiful as I walked down the aisle beside my father. Our wedding was a wonderful gathering of good friends and family. It was exciting celebrating the day with everybody and most of all with my new husband.
“Today it’s different. Now, I’ve resorted to sponge baths and dry shampoo. Every day is a bad hair day and I never feel clean. My nails are ragged because of all the work I do with my hands. Washing the clothes, I scrape my knuckles along the scrub board leaving me with raw, red hands. I break my nails doing this and sometimes, when I’m nervous, I bite them down to the quick. The girl I was last year, with the manicured hands and the perfect hairdo, is gone. I long to be that girl again.”
Burch’s life was rough, made even more so because mail service was sporadic and Burch couldn’t hear regularly from the “normal” family members she left behind. To fill the hours of the day, Burch learned to skin seals, cook the varieties of fish caught by her husband and camp at temperatures that I can’t even imagine experiencing.
The native women weren’t initially friendly to this “white woman” though eventually companionship did occur. Lamps filled with kerosene provided light at night; some books were available for reading. Fortunately for Burch, she did, along the way, adopt one of the sled dogs her husband had bought and the dog’s companionship was a Godsend.
Unfortunately, their stay came to an end when husband Tiger Burch was badly burned in a house fire. The description of what it took to find medical attention for him was the ultimate challenge. Drama? You bet.
I’m a lover of autobiographies and author Burch had a dramatic time to write about. I was glad to share the story with her.