Alissa York remembers 'hands and hearts'


In the summer of 2011, CBC host Shelagh Rogers and five well-known Canadian writers went to Torngat Mountain National Park in remote northern Labrador. The authors were Alissa York, Noah Richler, Rabindranath Maharaj, Joseph Boyden and Sarah Leavitt, and their task was to soak up the spirit of the North and channel their surroundings into a piece of writing. The resulting stories are available as an e-book from House of Anansi Press -- which is on sale now -- and a portion of the e-book's profits will go to PGIs for Literacy.

The entire journey was captured on film for the documentary Northwords, airing on the documentary channel on October 25. Until then, CBC Books will be exploring their experience in more detail.

The experience was also captured on radio. Be sure to listen to The Next Chapter's award-winning Northwords episode!

CBC Books has been catching up with the Northwords authors to talk about the memories and experiences that have stayed with them in the year since the journey to the North. Today, a Q&A with Alissa York:

What memories and impressions have stayed with you?

"I think about the Torngats all the time -- the place, its people and its creatures. My two strongest memories revolve around hands and hearts. I will always remember holding the exquisite, still-warm heart of the caribou shot by our guide and bear guard, John Merkurastsuk. I will never forget watching Inuit elder Sophie Keelan trace her fingers over the names displayed on the commemorative plaque at Hebron, the village she and her people were forcibly expelled from in 1959."

Has the work you've done in the past year been influenced by your trip and participation in Northwords?

"I've been researching the Amazon this year; in fact, I went there in June. The equatorial jungle might seem like a stark opposite to the treeless mountains of Northern Labrador, but I see parallels all the time. Both feature the following: an environment that both demands and rewards reverent regard; a palpable sense of nature as a living, breathing entity; a warm welcome by locals who willingly share their knowledge and their homes; an exotic, often overwhelming, 'wilderness' that is simply home to those who know it best."

What should travellers take to the North and what should they leave behind?

"In the name of all that's holy, do not leave home without bug spray and a bug shirt! Bring a camera. Bring a paper and pen. Leave behind all preconceptions of the place -- you can't possibly imagine how beautiful it is, how deeply it will make you think and feel."

Did you eat anything exciting?

"Fresh caribou rock-fried on the beach in plenty of margarine -- out of this world! Also fluffy mashed potatoes with Cheez Whiz -- dubbed 'whiz-mash' by our fearless leader, Shelagh Rogers."

Listen to Alissa York read her story inspired by the Torngats:

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