by Eva Saulitis
Leaving Resurrection is one woman's love poem to the Alaskan places and people that have taken possession of her soul. These gentle, richly perceptive, beautifully rendered stories take readers straight to the heart of Alaska. And like all fine writing, it leaves you aching for more. Eva Saulitis writes deeply from the spirit of Margaret Murie, and she shows us that the soul of wildness is still very much alive in the north country. The wild country of Alaska has always attracted women of extraordinary strength and character, women with a keen eye for the land's beauty and a heart strong enough for its challenges, women equal to the measure of the Alaskan land itself. Eva Saulitis and Leaving Resurrection are wonderful reminders that the tradition lives on. Above all, Leaving Resurrection is a book founded on conscience. Alaskans and everyone else who cares about America's greatest remaining wild places urgently need to read this book.
-Richard Nelson, author of The Island Within, Heart and Blood
Eva Saulitis is a fearless hunter. Like the whales, she sings mysterious songs to her readers, leading us on to new places, leading us off the map of the familiar. [...] These essays are that model, a fusion of head and heart, a rich wonderment, an invitation to a deeper understanding of the world and of ourselves.
- Sherry Simpson, author The Way Winter Comes: Alaska Stories
There is a lot in this book, including the memory of childhood, love, abiding friendship, and thoughtful, intimate, sometimes chilling accounts of killer whales, and even arresting tales of hazard at sea that are sure to make the reader's muscles twitch. This book gets better and better the deeper one goes into it, and so, too, its amplitude and complete logic intensifies, resonating after the last page is turned.
- John Keeble, author Out of the Channel
Eva Saulitis is that rare blend of poet-philosopher and scientist, akin to John Muir. Like Muir, she embraces both rigorous inquiry and spirited passion in her quest to understand, broadly, the natural world that surrounds and connects us.
- Nancy Lord, author Beluga Days: Tracking the Endangered White Whale
Review published in the November/December 2008 issue of Orion magazine
WHAT DOES IT MEAN? asks Eva Saulitis more than once in these essays that search for answers to the poet's question and the scientist's question-which is, she submits, the same question. For some it is still a radical suggestion that science and art might share a common language-but not for Saulitis, who skillfully works through this notion as she chronicles her life as a whale scientist on and off the boat, and in and out of the field. read more
- Reviewed by Gretchen Legler
Homer writer and poet Eva Saulitis elegantly probes the relationships between art and science in her first book of essays, LEAVING RESURRECTION: CHRONICLES OF A WHALE SCIENTIST, published by Fairbanks-based Red Hen Press. Saulitis, having earned graduate degrees in both biology and writing, is no stranger to the act of asking questions-as a scientist, she poses them, gathers data in order to discern facts, then articulates and tests hypotheses. As a writer, she's able to explore her visceral subjectivities. Ultimately, her analytic and artistic impulses complement one another. read more
- Reviewed by Jeremy Pataky, Wrangell Mountains Center
Author brings opposing selves together in collection of essays
FAIRBANKS - Scientist "Logical. Dispassionate. Observer.Poet/Writer" Emotional. Empathetic. Fervent. Two highly opposite personalities. That's usually not a problem, as this world functions well with people of all shades and hues. But when the two occupy the same body, that can be, well, problematic.That's the theme of Eva Saulitis' biographical work, Leaving Resurrection: Chronicles of a Whale Scientist. read more
- Libbie Martin, writer Daily News Miner
from California Coast and Ocean
Living the Questions
Not since Peter Matthiessen took me up into the Himalayas via The Snow Leopard many years ago have I been so reluctant to finish a book because I didn't want to leave the place it evoked. Matthiessen followed scientist George Schaller to great heights in his quest for a glimpse of the legendary big cat. Eva Saulitis is herself a scientist, as well as a poet and keen observer of inner and outer subtleties. Her territory is Prince William Sound in Alaska, where she has lived for 21 years, tracking and studying a group of killer whales that belong to a tribe of mammal-eating transients. Her small book, a collage culled from journals, is likely to create an indelible landscape in readers' minds, as Matthiessen's famous book did.
The sound (like the high Himalayas) is one of the "thin places" on earth, where the material and spiritual worlds exist in close proximity," Saulitis writes in her preface, quoting theologian Peter Gomes. Along the interface between the ocean realm of the whales and the home ground of humans and other land creatures, she explores the relationship between science and other forms of knowledge, and of herself as scientist and as a person seeking answers to questions that go beyond the rigorous limits of her discipline: "How do we reduce suffering? How do we understand who we are and what we mean? Is this the work of science?"
A whale biologist has to be patient and adventuresome. "Our research required that we, on the Whale 1, rove the area's labyrinth of islands and passages for months, searching for and following whales. When we couldn't find them we found, usually not people--Prince William Sound is roadless and remote - but evidence of a more-populated past, abandoned towns, mines, herring salteries, cabins, shipwrecks," she writes in a chapter about five summers spent on an island with her younger research assistant, poet Molly Lou Freeman. "We found bears, deer, hidden ponds, and berry thickets. We encountered silence, when, after weeks alone, thinking and speaking blurred like the outlines of islands during storms. Weather envelops us, even our minds. The absence of what we were looking for--the whales--swam in our own silence."
Eventually, Saulitis's discoveries and the questions they raised led her to search for wisdom among descendants of the people who have lived on the Sound since the last ice receded--which may have been the time when the whales, too, arrived, one of her research partners, Craig Matkin, suggested. Inupiaq, Sugpiaq, Chenega, and other indigenous people tell how humans and killer whales sometimes helped each other out, but kept a respectful distance. Stories suggest that whales may once have lived as land creatures, and that humans and whales sometimes changed into each other.
Saulitis does not resolve her questions; she decides she needs to live them rather than answer them. She's a thought-provoking scientist and lyical writer, so here's hoping that Leaving Resurrection, published by a small press in Fairbanks, will reach a wide world of readers.
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Excerpt from "Wondering Where the Whales Are"
In the Tlingit language, the word for killer whale, keet, means "supernatural being." We’ll never know its true connotation, but it fits. In nature, creatures defy our assumptions. In the 1980s, biologists divided fish-eating killer whales into pods, extended family groups that remained together for life. Recently, that story has been revised. These societies orbit around the matriline, mothers and offspring. Pods can fracture. The loss of a key female may cause a family to rupture, for bonds to loosen. Discoveries reveal the keet nature of the wild animal. And the more we know, the longer we stay, the more we care, and caring, like anthropomorphism, is tricky ground for that detached creature, the scientist.
For the past few years, we’ve been collecting samples from killer whales to measure contaminant levels in their blubber, to extract DNA from their skin. We’ve learned that their populations are small, a few hundred animals, so an oil spill or a die-off of salmon or seals can be catastrophic. We’ve confirmed that residents and transients don’t interbreed, though they share the same waters, that transients carry high PCB and DDT levels in their blubber, that mothers pass these poisons to calves through their milk. But to learn this, we have to approach whales more closely than we do to take photographs. To do this, we point a rifle at a whale and shoot a biopsy dart into its body. The dart pops out after snagging an inch-long piece of flesh on its thread-like barb, and we scoop it from the water with a dip net. To do this, Craig and I argue through our conflicted feelings. We can’t dart now; they’re resting. These animals are rare. We can’t dart in front of tour boats. We might not have another chance. We’ve probably darted enough animals in this group. We need more samples for the statistical tests. We have to have a common mind. I hate all this.
Even Lars, who’s enthusiastic about shooting, scrunches down in the bow, fingers plugged in his ears, eyes shut tight when the shot’s fired. read more
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Trained as a marine biologist, Eva Saulitis has spent twenty-one years studying the killer whales of Prince William Sound, Alaska with her partner, Craig Matkin. In 1999, she received her MFA in creative writing from the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and since that time, her poems and essays have appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies.
As a contributor to Homeground: Language for an American Landscape, edited by Barry Lopez, she has read her work on the PBS radio series Living on Earth. She spends several weeks each summer on Prince William Sound and Kenai Fjords, aboard the research vessel Natoa, and winters in Homer, Alaska, where she teaches English and creative writing at the Kachemak Bay branch of the University of Alaska.
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