Winter

Overview

Winter is the strange and haunting record of one man's experiences in the Far North. Intensely intimate and totally individual, it is a story of events ordered by snow, ice, wind, cold, and the necessity to survive.

In 1928 Cornelius Osgood journeyed to the Far North as an ethnographer for the Canadian government. While his scientific mission to study the lesser-known tribes of the Athapaskan peoples was a failure, the solitude of an isolated Arctic winter had a lasting effect ...

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Overview

Winter is the strange and haunting record of one man's experiences in the Far North. Intensely intimate and totally individual, it is a story of events ordered by snow, ice, wind, cold, and the necessity to survive.

In 1928 Cornelius Osgood journeyed to the Far North as an ethnographer for the Canadian government. While his scientific mission to study the lesser-known tribes of the Athapaskan peoples was a failure, the solitude of an isolated Arctic winter had a lasting effect on the writer. In Winter, Osgood articulates the impact of an environment defined by "the lovely loneliness of limitless land and sky, of snow and trees," and the truths of nature crystallized within it.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
In 1928, anthropologist Osgood journeyed to the far north to study some tribes of the Athapaskan people for the Canadian government. An Artic winter might seem torturous, but Osgood found the solitude and the bonding with nature invigorating, even life altering. He published his chilly adventures in 1953. Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780803286238
  • Publisher: University of Nebraska Press
  • Publication date: 3/28/2006
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Pages: 264
  • Product dimensions: 5.30 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Cornelius Osgood (1905–83) was a professor of anthropology at Yale as well as the curator of anthropology for the Yale Peabody Museum. He authored many classic works of anthropology, including Koreans and Their Culture and The Han Indians: A Compilation of Ethnographic and Historical Data on the Alaska-Yukon Boundary Area. Nick Jans is a writer and teacher living in Juneau, Alaska. He is the author of many books, including A Place Beyond: Finding Home in Arctic Alaska and The Grizzly Maze: Timothy Treadwell's Fatal Obsession with Alaskan Bears.
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Read an Excerpt



Winter



By Cornelius Osgood


University of Nebraska Press


Copyright © 2006

University of Nebraska Press

All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-8032-8623-6



Introduction


NICK JANS

It's a premise old as Thoreau: city slicker moves to wilderness,
communes with the natural world, and finds inner peace-or at
least some ray of enlightenment. In the century and a half since
Walden was penned, that prototypical American masterpiece has
become a template for dozens of books, ranging from incisive
and moving to eminently forgettable. At first glance, Cornelius
Osgood's Winter might seem to fall into that second category-published
in England fifty years ago, a memoir pieced together
from an old man's journals and recollections of a single winter
he spent living alone in an Athapaskan Indian settlement on the
remote arctic shores of Canada's Great Bear Lake in 1928. Given
that frame of reference, Winter could be easily mistaken for a
post-Victorian adventure saga, bogged down in florid verbiage
and ethnocentric attitude, and offering little insight beyond a
sigh of relief that such style and world view are fading in the
rearview mirror.

But instead, Osgood's book emerges like a long-abandoned
cabin from a snowdrift, immaculately crafted and both timely
and timeless, ready for the contemporary reader to inhabit. I'm
not by nature a glad-hander, and as a twenty-five-year resident of
bushAlaska and a student of northern literature, I'm well aware
of the heap of mediocre stuff out there-some of it clumsily
written if authentic; some acclaimed in literary or popular circles
but vapid and gee-whiz to anyone who's actually lived for a few
years beyond cities and roads. Winter, though, is a masterpiece
of its kind, as true a depiction of life in the far north as any ever
written. And Osgood's spare, honest voice is such an integral
part of the story that tale and teller are inseparable. His style
is surprisingly graceful and in places elevates to a lyrical, poetic
intensity: "Here a gray and silver world, lonely and desolate with
the moon staring above the black line of the earth's edge, drew
in upon me shivering in the wind" (14).

If you're anticipating a tale of epic proportions, replete with
polar bears and packs of wolves, cliff-hanging drama and exotic
Native ritual, look elsewhere. From its outset, Winter is an unassuming
chronicle of the author's experiences and the everyday
life in and around a tiny Indian settlement known as the Fishery;
Osgood, as a young ethnographer employed by the Canadian
government, newly arrived by the last steamboat of the season,
realizes that his proposed study of local Native life is doomed to
fail. What's more, his meager outdoor skills and supplies may not
be enough to carry him through the coming winter. But since
there won't be another supply boat up the McKenzie until the
following summer, he really doesn't have much choice.

Driven by the can-do, open spirit that brought him there in the
first place and aided from the start by the locals whose matter-of-fact
generosity is almost overwhelming, he sets out to secure the
basics of survival: food, shelter, and firewood, and the equipment
such gathering requires. He muddles through early attempts at
fishing with a gill net in the lake, learns by trial and error to drive
the dog team he's bought, and suffers the indignity of his struggles
being scrutinized by amused residents. He's all but adopted
by an effusive trapper named Pierre and a white trader, Bill, both
of whom are married to local Indian women. Bill lends him a
derelict cabin and others in the little community pitch in, helping
or teaching the newcomer as if he were one of their own. And
in his recounting of his everyday toils, trials, and tribulations,
Osgood paints a portrait of remote bush life seldom equaled.
While of course the focus is often through the lens of self-it is,
after all, a first-person narrative-he somehow manages to distill
the very essence of each and every being he encounters: the
volatile, antic Pierre; his stoic moose-hunting wife, Celine; Peter,
the superior sled dog who often shames him with a glance; the intellectually
starved, ragged priest at the Fort; warm-hearted Bill,
whose abrupt, icy withdrawal of friendship catches both Osgood
and the reader off guard. And not forgotten are the Indians of
the settlement, whom the author somehow manages to cast as
individuals in incisive, thumbnail sketches while giving us a clear-eyed
vision of their lives, free of the cloying idealism or cultural
smugness that characterizes so many other accounts. From the
old woman sleeping in a crowded tent who spits tobacco juice
over his thawing dinner biscuits to the little girl dying bravely
of tuberculosis and the card-playing lake trout fishermen who
welcome him to their spring camp, each is simply, for better or
worse, a person. And by book's end, we feel we've somehow met
them all ourselves, sat around the stove drinking tea, and shared
moments that artfully sum up their lives:

The old lady chattered away completely at her ease, only stopping to
produce a short-stemmed pipe and ask me for tobacco which made
the others laugh. When I gave it to her she convulsed the girls by the
statement that now I had become her only sweetheart. Her old face,
gnarled like spruce root, wrinkled up the faint lines tattooed in blue upon
her chin, and her eyes twinkled with the thought of years gone by. I gave
her a spool of thread and said she would have to make me moccasins so
that I could go hunting in the spring. She nodded her head and moaned
softly, as though a price in labor had always been the burden of her joys.
(95)

Osgood describes the largest and most silent character of all-
the landscape-with equal skill. Again, his words are chosen with
taut economy, offering just enough quick-sketched detail that
we find ourselves envisioning the endless expanse of Great Bear
Lake and the bitter darkness of fifty below zero, looking over the
author's shoulder as he points toward this cabin or that line of
trees and filling in the gaps with our own imagination. There
are no ornate descriptions and seldom a false note; Osgood's
prose is lean and unsentimental as the land itself, and his instinct
for sensory imagery-the sights, sounds, textures and scents of
northern life-is huge:

By the middle of January, the temperature which had been dipping each
few days dropped to minus forty, holding the settlement in its stiff grasp.
All wind ceased and one's breath purred from the freezing of exhaled
moisture. There was no other constant save the crackling of smooth
surfaces on the saltlike snow. The moon came up over half the southern
sky, first yellow, then shrinking into an enormous pearl. Smoke from the
houses rose straight like pale-blue streamers, gradually evaporating into
the translucent heavens. One's fingers numbed in seconds and burned at
the touch of a dog chain. The people huddled in their houses, only going
outside to relieve themselves. (169-70)

(Continues...)





Excerpted from Winter
by Cornelius Osgood
Copyright © 2006 by University of Nebraska Press .
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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