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Turning the Arctic crystal

July 1, 2012

Now let’s turn the crystal, looking at it from a different angle.
– J. Martin Burke, law professor at the University of Montana School of Law


I am fond of advising our students to “turn the crystal,” that is, to look at the world from different angles and vantage points.
I think that is why I am so fond of the Arctic. It forces you to look at the world differently, because it is so different.

  • Instead of nightfall, the midnight sun shines all evening. We played golf under the midnight sun on a tundra golf course the other night. Arctic time is much more flexible than what I am accustomed to.
  • Instead of having a steak or chicken dinner with friends and family, we had a meal of musk ox, smoked whale meat, smoked whitefish and muktuk (whale skin and blubber) in the home of an Inuit elder.

  • Instead of modern appliances, some Inuit people live off the land, storing their food in deep caves in the permafrost. Today, Jane and I climbed 30 feet down a vertical ladder into an icy permafrost cave.
  • Instead of traveling by Interstate, we traveled by a rough gravel road, carrying two full size spares, meeting an oncoming car every hour or so.
  • Instead of being in the majority, here we are minorities, graciously welcomed by the First Nations people.
  • Instead of living in the Dahl President’s home, we have been living many nights in the Bahls family tent, though both offer stunning settings.

These differences cause me to reflect, or turn the crystal.

  • Should we be so sure that our preferred way is always the one best way?
  • Are we as gracious in greeting newcomers to the Quad Cities as the Inuit people have been in greeting us?
  • Is scheduling one’s life in 15-minute increments really the best way to use time?
  • Do we really appreciate and treasure what we have?
  • Is our society too complex and too materialistic?

I am grateful to all at Augustana who keep the work of the college going as I am turning the crystal above the Arctic Circle.
(See also Jane Bahls’ Arctic Adventures blog).

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