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Teaching and Learning

Home  >  Teaching and Learning  >  Shopping for Porcupine  >  Discussion Questions
These Happy Spruce
Essay Summary: 
A warm summer brings eerie changes to the area. The village of Kivalina sinks into the ocean and elders there warn of the strange movements of animals and lush berry harvest.  Kantner realizes the once barren land around his old home has become overgrown with trees.

Discussion Questions:

When Raymond, the whaling captain, says, "We don't know" about global warming, what is he saying?

Points to consider:

  • He is saying that they don't trust the changes they are seeing, not that they don't comprehend what is happening. They know the world is changing and they are deeply concerned.

Why are the elders so in tune with the environmental changes around them? (p. 197-199)

Points to consider:

  • They rely on the land for game, fish, and berries, year round so they must pay close attention to migration patterns and season changes.
  • The elders are also concerned that the blessings of the land might be a sign of hard times to come.

Why does Kantner find the lush berries growing around his house disconcerting? (p. 200)

Points to consider:

  • The berries are just one of many signs that indicate to him that the world around him is changing and rapidly. He's "disconcerted" because he doesn't know that other changes will follow.

What point is Kantner making when he says that the "greenhouse effect" was "whiny, wimpy environmentalist talk" and that it wasn't "cool" to talk about when he was in college? (p. 202)

Points to consider:

  • He's pointing to a shift in attitudes, where people have gradually come to accept that the earth's climate is changing rapidly.

How does Kantner link the deaths of the two elders to climate change?

Points to consider:

  • With their knowledge they should have survived, but the changing climate made the knowledge they had unreliable, as the ice has become too dangerous and unpredictable.

Why do you think that death is an "accepted part" of Inupiaq life?

Points to consider:

  • With the harsh environment, the changing culture, disease, and social problems, they have endured many losses to the point people death is commonplace.

What does Kantner mean when he says people may have to accept "funerals not just for people?" (p. 207)

Points to consider:

  • He is referring to the death of species and a way of life with climate change.

Why are the spruce happy? (p. 207)

Points to consider:

  • The change in climate has made the tundra a healthy and welcoming place for the young spruce to grow, while before, the permafrost and cooler weather wouldn't be hospitable.

Final Questions:

What can we do to save villages like Kivalina?

Should we try to save these villages or relocate them?

Why is Kantner so concerned himself about the land changing?

What changes do the two photos show? (p. 201)

What species might Kantner be referring to when he says we may need to have a funeral for them?

Why do you think Howie admired the old Eskimos' "optimism" in the face of an uncertain future? Does Kantner feel the same way as his father?



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