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Teaching and Learning

Home  >  Teaching and Learning  >  Shopping for Porcupine  >  Discussion Questions
Flower of the Fringe
Essay Summary: 
Kantner spends a night with old timers Bob and Carrie Uhl. Bob shares his love for the fringed gentian, a fragile tundra flower. Kantner learns about caribou and the land from Bob and wishes he had Bob's patience to deal with the rapid deterioration of their lifestyle.

Discussion Questions:

What does Kantner mean when he says "time has come out different than expected" like the rice? (p. 127)

Points to consider:

  • Perhaps he is talking about how life has changed and the old way they used to live isn't possible any more.

Why do you think Bob and Carrie always "value a visitor" in the ways of the old Inupiat? (p. 127)

Points to consider:

  • In a land with few visitors it is wise treat all with respect.
  • The Inupiaq had stories they told to remind people to always respect and care for visitors.

Why might Bob tell the boy to include too much water?

Points to consider:

  • Perhaps because he is old and doesn't know, or to make the rice go further so it can feed more people.

Why don't newcomers recognize the important details of subsistence life? (p. 128)

Points to consider:

  • They are in a hurry, too busy with jobs and modern life to slow down to see the details or to not "rush" and notice them.

How can Bob know thousands of intricate details about caribou? (p. 130)

Points to consider:

  • Bob and Carrie have spent most of their lives relying on caribou as their main source of protein and fat. Bob's knowledge of the animals comes both from years of hunting them, but also respect for the animals.

Why does Kantner feel insecure around Bob and Carrie? (p. 131)

Points to consider:

  • He's in awe of Bob's knowledge of the land and animals.
  • With the "frontier falling apart" he feels like he should know more, and is humbled in Bob's presence.

What does Kantner mean by saying, "We the children of changing times on a frontier falling apart?" (p. 131)

Points to consider:

  • Perhaps he is referring to growing up on the frontier as the lifestyle that raised them fades into the past a victim of changing times, laws, and technology.

Why do you think Bob loves the fringed gentian so deeply?

Points to consider:

  • He respects the fragility and beauty of the plant.
  • The flower has no practical use, but has its own spirit -- as Bob puts it, "beauty, design, color, and perseverance." (p. 132)

Why might time in jail carry no stigma but bringing "skinny" meat home will? (p. 133)

Points to consider:

  • Skinny meat means a person is a poor hunter, careless, or thoughtless, whereas jail time just means someone got into trouble.

What does "counting coup" with numbers mean? (p. 134)

Points to consider:

  • The hunters are killing for the sake of killing and their reputation as hunters and not respecting their harvest.

What does Kantner mean when he says "Hunters raised on machines and video games"? (p. 134)

Points to consider:

  • Kids who grow up riding fast machines and playing video games instead of learning from elders and learning to hunt the old fashioned way.

Why does Bob's reaction at news of the wolf kills differ from Kantner's?

Points to consider:

  • Kantner feels resentment towards the hunters and their lack of respect.
  • Bob shows no "chagrin" at the news, perhaps this is because he has dealt with the changes longer than Kantner.

Why does Kantner say he needs some of Bob's "wisdom and peace?" (p. 135)

Points to consider:

  • Bob doesn't seem to feel the angst and heartache that Kantner feels about the changing times.

How are wolves and polar bear "fellow creatures" to Bob? (p. 137)

Points to consider:

  • He has refused to kill them because he sees them as equals. He respects their intelligence and therefore they are "fellow creatures."

What does Kantner mean when he closes the essay by saying he has "no idea what to do with the recognition" that he has a "bottomless respect for the creatures and creations of he land"? (p. 140)

Points to consider:

  • He's sharing his love and passion for the land, as well as his frustration that he doesn't' t know what to do with his feelings, and in some ways with himself.

Final Questions:

How are the lives of Bob and Carrie like the fringed gentian?

Answer the questions Kantner poses himself at the end of the essay:

  • "Subsistence has melted in our hands. Living off the land, how did it drip away?"
  • "How could the cash and the computers, the canned food and machines, have taken so much, left so little?"

What does Kantner gain in this visit with Bob and Carrie?



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