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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Be a (bit of a) Scientist This Summer!


This is an updated rerun of a story I posted last spring.

This is about Stream Monitoring and How to Do It. You don’t have to be a man to do this, but many are and that’s as close to the obvious joke as I’m going to go.

Len and his volunteer pal Tom enjoy this volunteer gig a lot. Once each month in the summer they go to the same stretch of the same stream to check water quality and to discover what creatures are lurking in the water and muck.  

A-Z Ice Cream & Marco Polo

DQ will never look the same. This photo is of a patio where one eats their gelato, somewhere in Italy. 



What is the thing most people spend a great deal of time, energy, and money keeping off our necks and out of our homes?

Chilly air

What is ice cream?

Chilly air with sugar.

I is for Idiosyncrasy - "I'm not goofy. You are..."

3/14/2023  (Happy Pi Day)

Idiosyncrasies are like cave drawings; enigmatic clues that say once upon a time something happened here. A story unfolded. Someone tried to solve a problem. The solution worked, or at least it kept the person comfortable or comforted long enough for the idiosyncratic habit to form.

A-Z Humor Me

Humor 3/8/2023

I heard this joke in a sermon in 1974. I heard that highly revered minister preach at least a hundred sermons and this is the ONLY thing I remember him saying.  

A guy loses his job and is desperate for a new one with which to support his precious family. Nothing turns up until one day the newspaper Help Wanted Ads (so now you know how old this jokes really is) says the zoo has an opening. Guy applies. The HR person looks worried and then says the zoo changed its mind, the job is too demeaning. Guy says he’s desperate, will take anything.

A-Z Heaven ...


First of all, you should realize that tomorrow is March 4th which is the only date of the year which tells you what to do. Hah.

This week I was amazed by this map/representation of the process of the creation of a new star. A year ago, there were no visuals of this process. What you are looking at is cutting-edge stuff observed and collaborated by 90 astronomers worldwide.

That + in the middle is the new star that right now is bigger than our sun. We know it’s young and new because it’s growing.

A-Z Hairy and Hair


Words nominated for the letter H were: Hairy, Heaven, and Humor. Let’s start with Hairy and then let it morph into Hair.


Our 4-year-old Madison grandkid goes to 4K classes which do not meet on Mondays. My son and his wife often work from home but imagine how easy it is to run the Monday morning zoom meeting for your work team while someone who small and not patient needs to lisp urgently to you right now.

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