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the silence of the north book coverA Pioneer Woman’s Lonely Struggle

Author: Olive A. Fredrickson

Motherless, the youngest of twelve children, stuck with her stoical father in the harsh, un-surveyed wilderness of northern Alberta in 1910, Olive began an extraordinary life. She married, had children, traveled, fought starvation and wild animals, lost her husband, lost a child, and married again, all against the backdrop of the take-all wildness that defined her – a wilderness equal part beautiful and brutal. As Olive struggled, her strength of character and love of the land colored her adventures and while her life had much sadness, an ineffable kind of childlike wonder always shone through.

Partnering with Ben East in the 1970s, the mostly uneducated Olive shared her memoir, which was later turned into a movie (that I have as yet to see). The Silence of the North is a less emotional Little House on the Prairie, taking in the difficulties of pioneer life with a doggedness and stoicism that highlights the seeming impossibility of it all. Olive moved beyond the heartbreak and the loss with a simplicity that spoke of a rare strength that was part stoicism, part acceptance.

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Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

Olive’s stories covered a lot of ground; she traveled up Canada’s Slave winter during 1922 and 1923, watching the ice break apart, carrying her baby on her lap, unable to swim, frozen, and desperate. She dealt with hungry wolf packs and starvation, kindness and near death, a wild husband who was not prepared for the winter and didn’t know how to shelter his wife and infant. She watched her children grow up to want a different kind of life. She marveled at the love and cruelty of wild animals, the terrors of hunting (especially wild moose), and how a woman on her own with little children managed to do all of this, living off the land by herself and with her own wits. Olive told all of this, with a matter of fact tone that belied a current of emotion and spirit.

The memoir’s only real downfall is its shortness, the vignette like style that covers Olive’s life from ten to nearly seventy. There is so much humanity here, but most of it is told succinctly, the emotion briefly touched on, the years swimming by. With so many extraordinary things going on, we want to touch down in Olive’s life and stay a little longer, delver further into what she loves about this life and where its disappointments and disillusionments challenged her hope. It all goes by so quickly, and we are left, touched but not really changed yet, wanting and needing more. Our imagination is invoked, a piece of history has come alive, and with it a life forever captured, but how fleetingly! How incompletely we have seen so much majestic struggle, so much pain, so much knowledge and life. A pause is needed, a slowdown, a closer look and deeper introspection. As it is, we are still enamored and captivated, but so much more is there, just beneath the surface, forever untouchable now.

– Frances Carden

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Frances Carden
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