Posts by Ellen Rocco

Holidays of grief and gratitude

Lambs play a symbolic role in both Easter and Passover. Photo: Ellen Rocco

Lambs play a role in both Easter and Passover. Photo: Ellen Rocco

It is a truism of being human: loss and grief focus, illuminate and amplify joy and gratitude. Sides of the same coin. Our gratefulness can grow as our experience with grief expands–it’s built into the arc of a life. Who escapes this earth without pain? For the rare person who does, the trade off is to miss some part of understanding the power of gratitude.

This is one of those years when the lunar calendar brings together the holidays of Easter and Passover. (Easter is the only major Christian holiday based on the lunar calendar; while all Jewish holidays are calculated on the lunar year.) Both celebrate the seemingly contradictory experiences of grief and gratitude.

Mark Twain. Isn't sharing joy a demonstration of gratitude?

A quote from Mark Twain. My question: isn’t sharing joy a demonstration of gratitude?

As an observer of Christian holidays and traditions, it has always seemed to me that Easter is the most profound of those holidays. A beloved deity is experienced here on earth, then lost, and ultimately restored, albeit under new conditions, forever. Rather than knowing the deity as a fellow man, the deity is now revealed and experienced as the son of G_d. Those who believe in the Christian story of Easter feel the pain of the crucifixion, but above all else a life-changing sense of gratitude for having Jesus Christ to worship and know spiritually.

On a more mundane or mortal level, this narrative path is not unlike the emotions we experience with the loss of a deeply loved family member or friend. We begin with pleasure in knowing and living with the person, we feel pain if they die, and then, one hopes, we come to a place of gratitude: for having had them in our lives, for having the lessons and memories we take from our time with them.

I do not mean to sound gratuitous here. Pain is pain; joy is joy. But gratitude binds and amplifies both emotions.

Seder plate. Not one but two slots for bitter herbs. Remember that pain. Photo: Jodi Bart

Seder plate. Not one but two slots for bitter herbs. Remember that pain. Photo: Jodi Bart

Passover, too, recognizes grief and celebrates gratitude. This is a holiday I know more intimately than Easter. Aside from the autumn celebration of the New Year and the solemnity of Yom Kippur, Passover is the most important holiday in the Jewish tradition I grew up in. Passover tells the story of the pain of slavery and homelessness finally ending with a new home and freedom. But, the symbolic elements of the seder table and service make a point of keeping the pain–salt water to represent tears, bitter herbs the taste of slavery–in close proximity to the gratitude for freedom.

From the grief and gratitude comes the heart of both Easter and Passover: hope. For the Christian, hope for salvation and eternal life in the G_d found, lost and found again. For the Jew, hope inspired by the possibilities of freedom and rebirth in a new land. These holidays are set in the right time of year: the season of hope, of new life.

Regardless of your religious or spiritual beliefs, spring brings us out of our homes and back into life to smell the dirt and hear the birds and see the first tender green push through earth. The pain of our lives is still there, but there’s promise in the air and for that I am grateful.


The third time the peepers sing

Is anything more associated with spring than pussy willow? Photo: Ellen Rocco

Is anything more associated with spring than pussy willow? Photo: Ellen Rocco

Spring. For real. I’ve written before about my old neighbor Milan Conklin who told me you had to hear the peepers three times before the weather would truly settle. I heard them this weekend at my farm. I doubt we’ll be hearing them again until after tomorrow’s cold snap. Then–if you go by Milan’s rule–we’ll have one more run of cold before winter is firmly and unequivocally behind us.

Walking around my farm neighborhood this weekend, I snapped a few quick shots of the world shifting into spring. I love the north country landscape at this time of year–before the trees start leafing out, before real green starts coming through in the meadows, before the peepers sing their third song.

Here’s what I love:

Spring field. Photo: Ellen Rocco

Spring field. Photo: Ellen Rocco

The smell. After months of snow and ice, the exposed earth begins to emit an aroma of life and death–the dirt smells alive but that includes the odor of decay, last year’s organic matter giving up its last bit of energy as it is transformed into this season’s nutrients.

The water. So much of it, all reflecting the light of an increasingly high sun. It positively glows. And the glow shimmers in the rapidly moving creeks and ditches. Plus the ducks, geese and herons that take up temporary occupancy.

The softness of the breeze. Even on colder days, that bitter bite of winter is gone. On mornings when it’s blowing and I open my front door, instinctively bracing myself for the sharpness of gusting wind, I am surprised and pleased that I don’t have to pull my neck warmer up over my nose.

The promise. In my garden, an inch of garlic top poking through in two parallel rows. It’s a miracle all over again. Those cloves tucked into the earth in October have survived and sprouted. Seems impossible after the winter we’ve had. Instills hope for sure.

It’s supposed to be pretty cold tonight and cooler for the rest of the week than it’s been the past couple of days. But the peepers will sing again by Friday or Saturday, and then once more. Right, Milan?


A pair of ducks on flooded creek. Photo: Ellen Rocco

A pair of ducks on flooded creek. Photo: Ellen Rocco


Geese browsing old corn field.

Geese browsing old corn field.

Who’s grateful?

Mugsy is grateful.

Mugsy is grateful.

We live, breathe, eat and walk with gratitude. You can’t be in the public radio business without being grateful. At the end of each fundraiser, we shake our heads in amazement. Once again, listeners and online visitors have sent us enough money to keep the ship afloat.

But here’s the thing. You don’t just give us money, albeit money you could just as easily keep in your pocket (and still tune in or surf over to NCPR).

You give us love–and gratitude. You say incredibly nice things about the work we do–and you thank us at the same time you’re donating money.

It’s a miracle of our public radio community. Just like the trust, the gratitude works in both directions.

Thank you, from all at NCPR.


Thanks to listeners–spring thaw, spring success. Flooded Fields, photo: Ellen Rocco


The archaeology of community

The Tahawus mine site, from Tom Helms' plane. Photo: Ellen Rocco

The Tahawus mine site, from Tom Helms’ plane. By the way, check out Andy Flynn’s story on the history of Tahawus. Photo: Ellen Rocco

Driving to work early one morning this week, I was thinking about our fundraiser and what magical thing I could say to finally convince every non-contributing listener to kick in some money.

Well, instead of coming up with the abracadabra of fundraising, I started thinking about the relative resilience of communities vs. communes. Then I started to think about how communities emerge, work on common goals, respond to the ups and downs of whatever the natural and human-made environments deliver, and adapt to change and innovate or fade away.

Our theme this week is dig deeper. If we could bring in an archaeologist to do a virtual dig on the history of North Country Public Radio, it would look something like this (very very very abbreviated version):

> Sign on in 1968 as WSLU with one 3,500 watt transmitter reaching some of St. Lawrence County with a few hours of music and a short newscast every evening. A St. Lawrence University faculty member and staff member oversee a few student volunteers. SLU pays all of the cost of the running the station.

> In 1971, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting provides funding to stations capable of broadcasting for 19 hours a day and paying five full-time people. WSLU steps up to the challenge and also becomes a member of the brand new National Public Radio, debuting All Things Considered. Funding is now split between SLU and CPB.

> In 1978, WSLU holds its first on air fundraiser with no specific goal. About $2,000 is raised. There are now seven full-time employees and a lot of part-time student announcers.

> In 1979, Morning Edition debuts, the public radio satellite is launched, replacing phone line distribution of national programs. The fall fundraiser sets a goal of $4,000 and reaches it.

> 1980 sees a successful fall fundraiser with a $7,000 goal, which still represents a tiny percentage of the station’s $200,000 annual budget.

A view of some of our coverage area: lots of trees, not many people. You are needed. You make the difference. Photo: Ellen Rocco

A view of some of our coverage area: lots of trees, not many people. You are needed. You really do make the difference when it comes to telling NCPR’s story. Photo: Ellen Rocco

> DRUM ROLL…In 1983, on the occasion of the station’s 15th anniversary, we raise about $30,000 and install a new 40,300 watt transmitter. We have an official news department.

> 1984 marks the beginning of the build out to communities beyond St. Lawrence County. We sign on in Saranac Lake and start imagining a network of transmitters to reach the entire Adirondack North Country.

> In 1986, we raised $40,000 during our fall fundraiser and we get serious about shifting more of the financial responsibility from SLU and CPB to our listeners and regional businesses. This is the turning point the archaeologists will underscore: the decision to orient the station–now North Country Public Radio–toward the community.

> FAST FORWARD…through the building of our transmitter network (34 facilities today), the creation of an Adirondack News Bureau led by Brian Mann, being recognized with dozens and dozens of awards from state and national organizations for our news and production work, and investing in one of the most robust and important digital services in the public radio system.

Today, 85% of the station’s approximate $2 million annual funding comes from listeners, local businesses/organizations, and other local sources, including about 5% from SLU; CPB provides about 10% and the NYS Education Department about 2%.

NCPR is a success story. A community success story.

We succeed because members of the community have invested in the station. Year after year.

I’m looking forward to hearing from you this week. You’re the magic--the abracadabra– in our history and our future.

Thank you.

Geo-location without GPS

Working on the Main Street mosaic in North Creek. Photo: Ellen Rocco

Working on the Main Street mosaic in North Creek. Photo: Ellen Rocco

Take a trip with me for a moment.

You’re driving along a road in Somewhere, U.S.A. You know you’re approaching the next town because there’s a Walmart on the left, a Lowe’s on the right, and a string of fast food joints on both sides of the road along with quick stop gas stations and strip malls.

Where are you? Somewhere, anywhere.

Turn on your radio.

If you’re within earshot of NCPR, you’ll know within minutes where you are and how to find out more about the region. We tell the story of the North Country, and we bring that story to the nation. Of course, we also bring the best and most important of the news and stories from around the country and the world, through NPR and our colleagues in public media.

Ice fishing on Black Lake. Photo: Ellen Rocco

Ice fishing on Black Lake. Photo: Ellen Rocco

If you live in the Tug Hill, you’ve heard us cover the outdoors culture based on the stupendous amount of snow that falls each winter.

If you live on Lake Champlain, you’ve heard our story about ice sailing.

If you live in the Thousand Islands, you know we’ve covered the debate around wind power development.

If you live in the Adirondacks, I know you’ve heard our on-going coverage of the debate around the use of the railroad right of way.

If you live in North Creek, you’ve seen stories about the Main Street mosaic mural.

If you live in Canton, you may be participating in the discussion around public school consolidation. We cover that.

If you present cultural events in Lake Placid or Indian Lake, Heuvelton or Old Forge, Plattsburgh or Glens Falls, we let listeners across the region know about what you’ve offering.

We do not serve North America. We serve the Adirondack North Country and our neighbors in northern Vermont and southeastern Ontario. That’s our beat. That’s our turf. You find us on your radio or at

No GPS required. All we need is your support to keep it going, to keep the story of our distinct geography and culture on the air and online.

Please contribute now. It’s a lot cheaper than buying a GPS.

Thank you.


In three words


Martha Foley says, "Please. Thank you...and here's how."

Martha Foley says, “Please. Thank you…and here’s how.”

Please. Thank you.

That could be the beginning and end, plus everything in between, as we start our 6-day fundraiser.

Please (give money now). Thank you (for doing your part).

But it’s never that easy. Some of you have already donated generously to the spring fundraising effort. You’ve responded to mail and email and to on air reminders. Thank you.

Many of you plan to contribute during the on air fundraising week. Thank you, in advance.

Now, I’m wondering about those of you who listen to NCPR or use our various digital services but have not been moved to give us some money.

Please. Thank you.

We are fueled by two things: money and trust. Obviously, money gives us the capacity to pay our staff–the people who produce the programs and content you care about; money gives us the wherewithal to buy programs, equipment, and everything else we need to keep the shop afloat.

Trust is the glue.

You trust us to do our best to bring you award-winning radio and digital content, plus a load of other services. You trust the work you hear or see from NCPR. You come back to us on a regular basis.

We trust you to contribute something to keep NCPR doing its job.

Radio Bob says, "Why not? What's better than kicking in a few bucks...Please. Thank you."

Radio Bob says, “Why not? What’s better than kicking in a few bucks…Please. Thank you.”

That trust is real. I’m not just saying something that sounds cool. Here’s how our trust is real: we do not place monetary barriers on the access road. You don’t have to pay us any money for a “subscription” for our broadcasts or our digital content. It’s all there for you to use and enjoy. As much as you want. You won’t get a notice saying, “You have had your 10 free articles for the month. Now you have to pay.”

Why do we trust you? Because you have proven you’re trustworthy. For 46 years, NCPR listeners and online visitors have voluntarily supported our work.

But here’s the dark underbelly of that fabulous success story: only a small percentage of our regular listeners and digital users contribute and through their contributions support everyone else who is taking advantage of all NCPR has to offer.

Don’t be a part of the dark underbelly! Come out into the sunlight!

Kick in a few bucks or a lot of bucks. Help your friends, neighbors and others across the region who give us money and who share NCPR with you.

Please. Thank you.


When we didn’t eat grapes

From somewhere between the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s no one in my family or circle of friends bought grapes.

Why? Cesar Chavez.

The United Farm Workers co-founder was successful in using a boycott of grapes to raise the national consciousness about migrant worker conditions. He was so successful that grapes became a “tainted” fruit for many of us even years after the boycott ended (it was certainly over by 1970). In truth, there’s a little bell that goes off in my mind even today whenever I purchase grapes. The bell signals this message: it’s okay, the boycott is over, you’re not a bad person for buying grapes.

A  new movie based on the life and work of Cesar Chavez is being released this week. Like his contemporary social activist, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Chavez made personal and professional mistakes. And, like Dr. King, the flaws made the man more human, more approachable, and ultimately more admirable. Neither was a saint; both were extraordinary–and ordinary–men.

Here’s the trailer for the movie, directed by Diego Luna and starring Michael Pena, with John Malkovich, America Ferraro, Rosario Dawson and Wes Bentley:

With the publicity around the recent 50th anniversaries of the 1963 “I have a dream” March on Washington, and of the assassination of President Kennedy, the release of “Cesar Chavez” recognizes another piece of the social drama that was being acted out during the 1960s.

While I haven’t yet seen the movie, the cast is strong and the reviews are generally positive. More importantly, this reminder of the struggles of migrant workers got me to thinking about today’s labor landscape.

Wiki graph

Wiki graph

By the early 1980s, a decade before Chavez died in 1993, the United Farm Workers membership had dwindled to less than a third of its 50,000 peak in the 1960s. Through the next few decades, union membership nationwide dwindled to an all-time low, at least since the earliest days of the 20th century when labor was first organizing itself to bargain with management.

In 2014, the complex challenges facing the American labor force include a loss of jobs to globalization, mechanization, and, to some extent, dis-organization. In the face of these conditions, how can labor bargain for better wages or benefits or working conditions? Make no mistake, some industries still employ people in appalling environments–think, for example, about the mega-poultry processing world or the questionable agricultural work settings still plaguing many migrant workers.

I am not trying to imply that labor unions during their 20th century heyday operated without fault. Part of the reason membership dwindled was the entrenchment of bad practices and abuses in unions themselves. But if you trace American labor history from 1900 through 2000, unions played a leading role in creating our nation’s middle class. The diminishing union impact in the automotive, transportation and construction industries has directly paralleled the decline of the middle class and the expansion of the chronically under- or unemployed.

The United Farm Workers story under the leadership of Cesar Chavez was an important and compelling chapter in U.S. labor history. How many other labor actions–whether strike or boycott–so effectively engaged millions of Americans in an act of collaboration–removing grapes from dinner tables across the entire continent for five or more years? Pretty amazing.

Stomp, smash, swat, scrub

Wikipedia photo

Wikipedia photo

A few years ago someone brought a bag of flour to my house. It was infested with pantry moths, plodia interpunctellaalso called Indianmeal moth, North American High Flyer, and Weevil Moth.

If you’ve ever had an infestation, you know how persistent this moth–and its larvae and webbing–can be.

After months of smashing and swatting moths, then finding a nasty weave of webbing in bags of flour and other grains, I rolled up my sleeves and got serious.

I threw away everything in my pantry cupboards that wasn’t tightly sealed in glass jars or tins. I tossed all of the old shelf lining and scrubbed thoroughly. This pretty much worked. Weeks passed and I only saw one moth. It turns out, that’s all you need to see to still have a problem.

Sure enough, as the weeks passed, more moths.

A friend gave me several moth traps–basically a sticky surface infused with a substance that attracts the moths. This was effective–combined with a second round of cleaning.

So, now, five years later, why am I writing about pantry moths? Well, they’re back. I’m about to go at it again. The beginning of Spring cleaning.

If you have a pantry moth problem, here’s a handy Wikipedia guide to what needs to be done.

Good luck. They’re persistent little buggers.

Habitat magic: everyone can (learn to) hammer


Taylor Silvestro, SLU women’s field hockey assistant coach, nails it! (Note: she’s got her protective eye wear on.) Photo: Ellen Rocco


Or use a tape measure or saw, or help pick up around a construction site, or cut insulation board.

When I agreed to serve as an advisor for a group of 15 St. Lawrence University students headed to Goldsboro, North Carolina during spring break to participate in Habitat for Humanity, I had two fears:

Myles Guiler and Biz Alessi in the van as we head to North Carolina. It was a great ride, filled with hours of listening to all genres of new and classic music. Photo: Ellen Rocco

Myles Guiler and Biz Alessi in the van as we head to North Carolina. It was a great ride, filled with hours of listening to all genres of new and classic music. That’s Joshin Atone at the wheel.  Photo: Ellen Rocco

1. Could I survive the 14-hour drive in a van, and a week at close quarters…with a group of students?

2. Could I be useful?

The answer to both  turned out to be “yes.” In fact, the students and the work made the week a transformative experience.

Here’s what I learned:

1. Habitat doesn’t “give” houses to anybody.  While Habitat homes are very reasonably priced and mortgages are offered at low-interest rates, the owners must purchase the homes. In addition, Habitat home owners must contribute a lot of hours to Habitat construction projects.

2. Students who participate in Habitat for Humanity projects–whether at local sites or afar–are special. Our group looked forward to the week, performed on the site with enthusiasm and energy, and spread laughter and joy wherever they went.

Tithal walks the girder between floor joists installed! Photo: Ellen Rocco

Tithal walks the girder between floor joists installed by…us! Photo: Ellen Rocco

3. You can make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear–at least if you’re a Habitat construction site manager like Ethan or Tithal. These guys turned 70 amateurs into an effective team of carpenters and roofers. Over the five day work period, one house acquired roofing, exterior insulation, windows and doors; the other went from a muddy foundation site to a framed structure. You know more than you think you do, or you can quickly learn enough to be truly useful. I saw Ethan and Tithal train first-time-on-a-construction-site students into roofers and carpenters…maybe not ready for the trade unions, but they got the job done. No power tools. All by hand.

4. The experience made me feel grateful every moment I was there. Grateful to be of help. Grateful to meet and work with so many wonderful people. Thank you, Goldsboro Habitat!

Would I do it again? Co-advisor Taylor Silvestro, the St. Lawrence University women’s field hockey assistant coach, said it all for both of us: “In a heartbeat.”

If you’d like to participate locally with Habitat, visit this page to find an affiliate near you. If you’d like to contribute money to Habitat, visit this page.

Here’s a photo collection tracking our week in North Carolina to give you a feel for what the experience looked and felt like.

From the trip down: North Carolina has very different laws (and much lower taxes) on the sale of cigarettes. Photo: Ellen Rocco

From the trip down: North Carolina has very different laws (and much lower taxes) on the sale of cigarettes. Photo: Ellen Rocco


Sleeping on the floor at the Goldsboro Community Center. Photo: Ellen Rocco

Sleeping on the floor at the Goldsboro Community Center. Photo: Ellen Rocco












First (cold) morning on the job. From the left: Taylor Silvestro, Anna Hughes, Emily Geiger, Libby Boissy, Julia Simoes, Morgan Kirby, Kellan Morgan, Biz Alessi, Margot Nitschke, Kiana Harris, Erick Sievert, Joshin Atone, Myles Guiler, Danny Lobo, Danny Hunt, Mike Theobald. Photo: Ellen Rocco

Here’s what the two houses we worked on during the week looked like on the first day we arrived:

Anna Hughes helping to level crawl space dirt inside foundation. Photo: Ellen Rocco

Anna Hughes helping to level crawl space dirt inside foundation. Photo: Ellen Rocco


The other house looked like this–roof crew gets up there for the first time. Photo: Ellen Rocco














Steps along the way during our week on the job site:

hauling mud and water away from the construction site. Photo: Ellen Rocco

Anna, Margot and Kellan hauling mud and water away from the construction site. Photo: Ellen Rocco


The roof goes on. Photo: Ellen Rocco

The roof goes on. Photo: Ellen Rocco










Habitat construction leader Ethan explains the fine points of barbeque, oops, I mean construction, to some of the team. Photo: Ellen Rocco

Joshin pays close attention as Habitat construction leader Ethan explains the fine points of barbeque, oops, I mean construction, to some of the team. Photo: Ellen Rocco


Morgan with Takisha, one of the Habitat home owners-to-be. Photo: Ellen Rocco

Morgan with Takisha, one of the Habitat home owners-to-be. Photo: Ellen Rocco

In the background of the photo below, the foundation of the house we worked on. The more finished house was not one of our projects. But, note the windows piled against the other home we worked on. By the end of the week, those will be installed.

Mid-week, another cold morning on the site. SLU team. Photo: Ellen Rocco

Second morning on the site. SLU team happy about donated donuts and coffee. Krispee Kreme! We’re in the South. Photo: Ellen Rocco


SLU roofing "gals" on the right. SLU guys worked on installation of "blue board" (exterior insullation). Photo: Ellen Rocco

SLU roofing “gals” on the right. SLU guys worked on installation of “blue board” (exterior insulation). At the ladder, our friend Stewart from Virginia Tech (one of the other schools on the Goldsboro site). Photo: Ellen Rocco

Lunch break on the "front porch." Photo: Ellen Rocco

Lunch break on the “front porch.” Photo: Ellen Rocco


The team had to eat. Working hard, y’know.

We ate a lot of peanut butter. One evening's kitchen team made "breakfast for dinner" complete with waffles and we spilled out of the kitchen door to eat on the back steps. Photo: Ellen Rocco

We ate a lot of peanut butter. One evening’s kitchen team made “breakfast for dinner” complete with waffles and we spilled out of the community center kitchen door to eat on the back steps. Photo: Ellen Rocco


On our final evening, we went to a barbeque restaurant. Photo: Ellen Rocco

On our final evening, we went to a barbeque restaurant. Of course. Photo: Ellen Rocco













Okay, the moment you’ve been waiting for: what we accomplished, along with the students from Virginia Tech, Delaware Valley, and Rochester…not to mention the real carpenters on the job, Tithal and Ethan. Here are photos of the two houses shortly before we left.

Framing started the next morning--the floor is in and the rooms have been laid out. Photo: Ellen Rocco

Margot, Biz, Myles, Mike, Erik, Lobo and Dan. Framing started the next morning just before we headed north. Photo: Ellen Rocco

Julie takes a final photo from the finished roof. Note windows and doors. They're installed! Photo: Ellen Rocco

Julia takes a final photo from the finished roof. Note windows and doors. They’re installed! Photo: Ellen Rocco

If you’re interested in working with Habitat, remember to check out this link to find a Habitat chapter in your community. If you’re a college student, check your campus. There may be a chapter. Or start one.

The Vodka Icicle Award

Ice Brewed. Photo: Erik Buehler.

Frozen vodka, with alcohol drained away. Point: it’s gotta be cold to freeze vodka. “Ice Brewed” Photo: Erik Buehler.

It’s Academy Award season, the Hollywood gathering of decolletage and glitz, while we’re here in our long johns, bulky sweaters and hats with ear flaps.

I say it’s time to set our own scene. Lay out the red carpet on a frozen lake, find a costume designer who knows about wool and wicking, and hand out a new film award: The Vodka Icicle.

In the spirit of this northern answer to sun-drenched southern California, let’s build a list of films we love…set around or above the 45th parallel. (Locally, for your information, the 45th parallel passes through Rouses Point, NY and Alburgh, VT on Grand Isle.)

If white is the color you associate with a particular movie, very likely it’s the snow you’re remembering and it’s probably eligible for the Icicle.

Here are a few of my iconic northern-based films, in no particular order and definitely not comprehensive. These are just a few of the titles that come immediately to mind. Add your picks in the comment section below. We can fight over which movie deserves the first ever Vodka Icicle Award.


Nanook of the North, 1922 Robert Flaherty silent classic about an Inuk man in the Canadian Arctic. Some say this movie suffered from an anthropological outsider perspective , but in its day, it was exceptional and did document a fading culture. Overall, still respected as a remarkable contribution to the world of film and may be the first commercially released documentary.

Atanarjuat, The Fast Runner, 2002, Zacharias Kunuk. Jump ahead about 80 years for another innovation: what is considered “the first feature film ever to be written, directed and acted entirely in Inuktitut” (from the Wikipedia entry). What stayed with me from this film was the amazing barefoot, almost-naked run of the protagonist across the open Arctic snow. Voted one of the top 10 Canadian films of all time.

Fargo, 1996, Joel and Ethan Coen. Set in North Dakota–part black comedy, part police procedural–winner of multiple awards at major festivals the year it was released. What I remember most vividly is a long shot of a snow-covered field with a barbed-wire fence that could have come straight out of our north country (okay, I also remember the gruesome use of the wood chipper).

Into the Wild, 2007, written and directed by Sean Penn, based on the 1996 book by Jon Krakauer. I read and loved the book and went to see this movie reluctantly, but was very pleasantly surprised. I was particularly touched by the treatment of the young man whose life and death are chronicled in this true story. Most vivid image: the aerial pan of the Alaskan location where Christopher McCandless died.


Smilla’s Sense of Snow, 1997, Bille August. Another one based on a book (1992 novel by Peter Hoeg) that succeeds as well as the book. A thriller, mystery starring Julia Ormond, Gabriel Byrne and Richard Harris with lots of snow and northern water, filmed primarily in Greenland and Copenhagen.

Gorky Park, 1983, Michael Apted. One more based on a book (1984 mystery by Martin Cruz Smith). This, too, was a great read and a terrific film. Lots of Russian snow.

Frozen River, 2008, Courtney Hunt. Roger Ebert gave this indy production a five-star rating. It’s set about as locally as it gets for us: on the Mohawk reservation straddling the U.S. and Canada. It’s a thriller and mystery on a landscape we all know.

I’m going to stop here and let you pick up the thread. Maybe we’ll take a poll once you’ve had a chance to add your favorites to the nomination list for The Vodka Icicle. No contenders for the Icicle among this year’s Academy Award nominations  — none of the nine best pictures are set above the 45th — but you’ll find all of the nominees in all categories on the link.

Oh, and here’s a link to a story Brian Mann did on the real Captain Phillips. The movie “Captain Phillips” as well as “12 Years A Slave” are both in the best picture nominations, and both have a regional connection–though neither is set on northern terrain.