Mary Beth Writes


We are working our way through an Alphabet of Topics and we are currently considering the letter I. Two days ago, I wrote about Idiosyncrasies. Today is Igloo. Next up is Ice Cream.

So here we are again with nervous banks and a jumpy stock market and we “commoners” quietly peruse how many bags of beans we have in the pantry. I hope by the time I finish and post this the news is more stable, but I doubt it. “May you live in interesting times.” Right?

You know what I learned while researching igloos?

Igloos are the technology of stressed people adapting to stressful times.

People of the far north were called Thule people for millennia. Thule, pronounced ‘too-lee’ or ‘too-lay’, was a word coined by ancient Greeks (!) to mean “the farthest.” Ancient folks knew there were people way up north in the Arctic. And here I thought Thule was invented by manufacturers of too-cool camping and outdoor sports equipment.

Thule people had created, over thousands of years, a sophisticated hunting and trapping culture. Archeologist find products made from eastern Canadian materials in western Canada, in Greenland, heck, they find traded materials in Siberia. Thule people got around. They knew how to find copper and iron; probably one of the reasons they traveled so widely around the Arctic was their search for different metals. They hunted, generally living in communities of 50-200 folks. They got together with other clans and communities for seasonal festivals and feasts, to share information they’d learned that year, for the youngsters to play and compete, the teenagers to choose partners, the adults to share gossip and tips about how to survive and thrive.

Thule folks had cooking equipment, hunting spears and knives, all sorts of fishing stuff. They lived in stable homes in stable communities. They would dig a depression into the ground and then haul huge rocks to set around that depression. Then they used driftwood, antlers, and/or whale bones to make a frame over the rocks. Over this they would build roofs of stretched skins and/or tundra sod. These houses had low tunnel entrances to help keep out arctic winds.

But by the 1700’s onwards Thule culture was encountering two big stresses. First, they were living through the Little Ice Age. From 1300-1850 northern latitudes were a few degrees colder than their previous normal. Winter lasted longer, summer was shorter and chillier. This caused herds to be smaller, fish and water animals trickier to obtain. Shorter summers also meant there was less time to scavenge materials to build houses, less time to construct and repair homes.

The other huge stress was European contact. Within just a few generations the entire culture turned upside down from hunting to supply one’s family, to hunting to sell furs in order to buy what the Europeans were selling at the trading post. Inuit people were now at the mercy of selling and prepping enough furs to earn enough money. They were at the mercy of shipments of goods and grains arriving from far away. They were at the mercy of imported alcohol which could switch off the new terrors and griefs. And, of course, European diseases decimated indigenous peoples.

Life got harder. Resources were harder to obtain. Costs went up. Deadly pandemics raged through communities, killing adults needed to keep communities up and going.

We know these headlines.

Hunters, many less skilled than their dads and grandfathers, needed to travel further so they were gone longer. There simply was not the accumulated knowledge nor enough time to build and repair the sturdier rock homes. There were not as many animals to skin and prep for house covers. Shorter warm seasons needed to be devoted to obtaining and prepping food, not scavenging for materials, and digging sod bricks.

Igloos, which had been used in the past as hunting shelters, became the home that could be put up quickly and would do.

The technology was similar to the more permanent homes they remembered. Dig a depression. Cut snow blocks to build the walls upwards to the middle. A properly constructed igloo will support the weight of a man standing on top of it. A snug igloo is completed by making the lamp/stove one uses burn quite hot for a few minutes, causing the interior to slightly melt. Then reduce the heat and let that melted edge refreeze. The entrance is still that low tunnel which diminishes cold air from coming inside.

Inside there is usually a sleeping platform slightly higher than the floor. That keeps sleepers up where there are fewer drafts.

Also, and this is my humorous opinion. Those low entrance tunnels look like an agility test for older folks. If one can’t get down to crawl in, is it time for the ice floe cruise?

There are lessons in here. Don’t welcome priests, merchants, or soldiers with open arms. You have gotten by this long; you have a world view and skills that work for where you are. Beware strangers with smiles that are too big. Beware mansplainers who want to tell you what’s what “out in the big world.” Beware people who want you to change in ways that will make them richer.

When conditions become stressed, re-evaluate your priorities. You need food and warmth before you need name brand sofa pillows.

Most of all, you need to be able to look around and then change and adapt using materials you have at hand. 

Igloos are the technology of savvy survivors.

That Little Ice Age is fascinating and it affected a great deal of human history. This is a good podcast I heard a few years ago that explains what it was and how it affected who we are now.  Ben Franklin’s World, episode 189, The Little ice Age. An interview with a professor at Ohio State University.





Very interesting !
Mary Beth's picture

Thank you!

Enjoying your A-Z commentary, and your writing in general. Appreciate your thought-provoking content and sense of humor. Thank you for writing, it makes my day better to read a new post!
Mary Beth's picture

Thanks! Writing abut igloos was a stretch for me - I was surprised by what I learned.

Intersex, which is the first thing I thought when I noted your topic. In Latin America, the initials are not LGBTQ, but LGBTI, with the I being for intersex, i.e, humans who have both male and female biology when they are born.
Mary Beth's picture

I read Middlesex in the 90's and it was a powerful read. Since I am letting others pick the topics, intersex didn't come up. But you are right, it's time to do our parts to normalize the many ways we are sexual and asexual beings.

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What Now, US Constitution?


Not sure if I wrote this post for you or for me.

I was close to the end of my volunteer shift at the Food Pantry yesterday. The morning had been tougher than usual (see the upended boxes we didn’t have time to flatten) and I was tired. Then I got this text from Len, “Don’t look at the news.”

I’ve never received anything this cryptic from Len in my life. I told my co-worker Nancy I needed to look at the news because something weird was going on.

She replied, “The Supreme Court.”

Hot Weather Diary #4


Guess what amazing thing is happening at my house right now? This has not happened in, I think, two weeks…


Yesterday evening the heat index was 100 degrees. Tonight the temperature is 70, low humidity, breezes wafting in the windows like angels’ breath.

Hot Weather Diary #3


Today was another hot one and right now, it’s still 93 degrees in my backyard.

Hot Weather Diary #2


“Time wasted at a lake is time well spent.”  (I tried to learn who wrote this; it seems to have arisen spontaneously on a Pinterest plaque for your cabin.)

There is an argument that civilization started on the banks of rivers, the oceans, and along the shores of the hundreds and thousands of lakes on our earth. Waterfront is where people and animals gather to drink, eat, cool off, and watch the youngsters while they play. Also, it’s where adults gather to chat, fish, breathe in beauty, and sometimes swim far out there where joints don’t ache and its quiet.

Hot Weather Diary #1


We all knew it was coming and here it is. A Hot Week! We are in the news! We are important! Humans around the nation, especially in the East and Midwest, will be living through a week with temps in the 80’s, 90’s and worse.

What the Dickens?

The photo is from Barnados, a childrens charity in London in the 19th century. 


Argh! I have a new phone because the old one stopped staying charged plus a few more foibles. My phone cost $400 five years ago so it makes sense that it stopped working reliably, right? If an appliance worked like this we would burn that manufacturer to the ground.

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