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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Y is for Yellowstone


Back in February I asked you to give me topics to write about that would correspond to the alphabet. Sometimes several of you sent ideas for one letter and sometimes I wrote about all of them (I’s and S’s) Here we are at letter Y for which your suggestions are Yummy Food and Yawns. The word yawn absolutely makes me yawn; no way I could write about that - I would yawn for hours. I worked on Yummy Food but could only find a scolding voice about Americans eating too much sugar. Bah. True but not interesting.

So, I gave Y a go again. Y is for?

"I was Scott Simon's teller."


First of all - Thank you to those of you who came to the Wisconsin Writers Association zoom gala last night. I HAD received an email a week ago which said I would be reading my whole story. Cutting it in half while I was reading was awkward! It was still a happy event for me and the other writers. Thanks for being there! 

X is for Xeriscape


Xeriscape is pronounced ‘zeer-eh-scape’ and it means landscaping with little to no irrigated water. Readers in the west already know about this. Those of us who don’t live in arid or desert places need to wake up to the incredible resource that water is - then begin to accommodate ourselves to “water all around and beneath us all the time” is no longer our reality. Nor is it our right. We’ve got to get smarter and do better.

W is for Wonder


To whomever suggested Wonder - Thank You!  ‘Wonder’ has been bobbing in my mind like a frog in a pond.

However, I have FOUR suggestions from you guys for X - but I do not want to write four X essays. These are the suggestions:

1.) X signature substitution

2.) xylophone on a string pulled by a toddler

3.) xenophobia

4.) Xmas. 

If you have an opinion respond with the one you would like me to attempt. I will choose whichever X gets the most comments.

There will be no gerrymandering in this election.



Grownups Noticing Their Lives


Most of you know about my former weird and lovely job of coordinating an employability skills program for Huber-qualified inmates in the Racine County Jail (that’s a mouthful). Early on I realized that most of the people I would work with were people with 1.) huge addiction problems, and 2.) underlying and over-the-top and to-the-side just lying around mental health issues.

V is for Vocabulary


For those who are new here - This year I am writing about topics, in alphabetical order, that were suggested to me by readers. Sometimes this is hard! 


My cousin-in-law Dave has some powerfully thorough avocations (for fun and profit he earned a PhD in biochemistry; you will notice this in his list). This year, among other pursuits, he has been collecting words which have appeared in our culture since 1945, which was the year he also appeared in our culture.

Tag Cloud

9/11 17 minutes 500 Words A-Z AARPtaxes AAUW abortion Acadia accident Accountable Advent aging Alaska anniversary antibiotics antlers apples appointments Arrows art Ashland August Augustine aunts baby Badlands balance Baldwin Barbara Barkskins Beauty Becky Becoming Esther Berry birthday bistro BLM Blue BookReport books boy scout Bread BrokenDays BuyAngry Cabeza de Vaca Cahokia calendars Canada canoe cat romance cats cello Chicago China Choosing Christmas cilantro Cinnabuns circus climate change clouds Clowns clutter Colonialism comet ComfortZone CommonSense community consumerism Cops Corvid-19 Courage Covid-19 Crazy creditreport creosote CrimeShows danger DarkRiver death Debate December DecisionFatigue decluttering democracy dentist depression Destination Today Detroit Didion disasterprep dogs dollhouse Dreams Duty Easter eBay Echoes Eclipse election EmilyDickinson eschatology Esquipulas exit polls eyes Fable FairTrade family farmer Fata Morgana ferns firealarm Fitness Five Flatbread Flexible flu Food Pantry Fort de Chartres frame Franc FrancGarcia friends frugal FrugalHacks Frugality frustration Ft.Ticonderoga fungi fusion Galena Gannets Garden GarfieldParkConservatory Gaspe genius geode GeorgeFloyd gerrymandering ghosts gifts girls GNTL gorgons goulash GovernorThompsonStatePark Graduation grandkids granola groceries Guatemala gum guns Hair happiness HaveYouEver? hawks healthcare Healthinsurance hearings heart heaven HelleKBerry heroes hike History home HomeRepair Honduras Hope HowCrowGotOutofJail humor hurricane Ice Cream idiosyncrasy igloos impeachment Innkeeper Instincts integrity InternetPrivacy Interview InviteMe2Speak James Baldwin Jan 6 Janus jewelry JoyceAndrews Judy JulianofNorwich Jump justice Karen kites ladder Lady Lamb LangstonHuges LaphamPeak laundry LeeLeeMcKnight lemming Len Light Lincoln Little Women LockedOut Loki loneliness LouisArmstrong Love Ludington Macaw macho Manitoulin MargaretFuller Maria Hamilton Marquette marriage Marsden Hartley masks Mayan MayaWorks meme Memories men Middlemarch MilesWallyDiego MindfulChickens Mistakes MLK moon Mother MothersDay mounds mouser movies museums must-haves Mustapha NAMI Nancy Drew Newfoundland New Mexico New York City Nomadland nope observation OBUUC Ocotillo OnaJudge ordinary OscarRomero osprey Outside oximeter Parade mayhem PastorBettyRendon Paul Hessert PDQ Penny persimmon photos Pi Pies pineapples poetry Preaching privacy procrastination Protest QE2 Quern quest Questions Rabbit holes racism reading recipe recipes recommendations Remember RepresentationMatters Reruns responsetoKapenga Retirement rhubarb Ricky rime RitesofPassage romance Rosemary Ruether Roses Roti Ruth SamaritanWoman Sanctuary Sandhillcranes Santuario de Chimayo SaraKurtz SaraRodriguez satellites ScottSimon sculpture Seasons Sermon ServantsoftheQuest sewing Shepherd Shontay ShortStory shoulder sick sickness Slower snow Social Security SofritoBandito solstice South Dakota SpaceShuttle spirituality spring square feet staining stars stele Stereotypes stories StoryStarts stream monitoring stress Survival swim Talent taxes teenager thankgsgiving Thanksgiving TheBridge TheMaid ThePerpetualYou therapy ThreeBillBoards Three Thing ThreeThings Three Things TidalBore TimeBeing toddler Tom tortillas Trains travel Traveler Tubing turtle Twilight Bark Tyrone Ukraine Ulysses Grant Umbrella UnrelatedObservations Up North urgency vacation vaccine Valentines vanilla Vietnam vision VivianWokeUpDrowning Vocabulary vole volunteer WalkingAndSeeing Wampanaog war WarsanShire weather weaving Webs wedding whines WhyAttendChurch Wiley Willa WillaCather Wisteria Won! Wonder words Xeriscape Yellowstone
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