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Grandmother is going north to turn up heat

Arctic trek by 75-year-old environmentalist aims to raise awareness of global warming

Globe and Mail, page A14, Wednesday, June 28, 2006

By Eva Salinas

VANCOUVER -- As Dorothy Cutting prepares to leave her comfortable home on Saltspring Island, she wonders whether her body will hold up over the next six weeks. On Saturday, she will leave behind her friends, garden and two beloved cats to journey by car and plane, alone, to the Arctic.

The 75-year-old grandmother of four said it's the only thing she can do to wake the world up to the realities of global warming.

"If I were strong enough to walk and accomplish this, I would do it. Maybe that's what people are going to have to start doing," she said.

"Other people are good at organizing . . . and everybody can do something different in their own way.

"This is all I know how to do."

This, however, is not true.

Ms. Cutting knows how to blog and use a cellphone, and calls herself an expert in using the Internet search engine Google.

All of which is used to add to her knowledge of the ice caps' increasing rate of melting, the alarming effect carbon has on plant life, and how easy it would be to make small yet significant changes (start by lowering the speed limit, she suggests).

She also knows how to spread the word -- in 2002, after reading a book by Greenpeace co-founder Bob Hunter, Ms. Cutting drove across the country to deliver a copy of the book to every member of Parliament.

Afterward, she returned home to "garden and do, you know, little old lady kinds of things," until she decided a few months ago to travel north and see melting ice caps herself.

As she has severe degenerative arthritis, she consulted her doctor, who told her to "go for it," she said. "He knows he couldn't stop me anyhow," she added.

And so far, no one has.

Born in Denver, Ms. Cutting grew up in northern Virginia, was married and divorced twice by her early 30s, and raised her children on her own.

Since, she has accomplished everything by herself -- from weeklong kayak trips, to moving from Seattle to Canada, where she became a citizen in 1998.

For this trip, she has the financial help of the Sierra Club of Canada, and although the journey is intended to be solo, a filmmaker from Saltspring Island will document the event. Ms. Cutting plans on pretending he isn't there, she said.

"Until I made that first trip across Canada, I've been a really private person," she said, adding that she has endured family tragedy. Two of her four children died when they were young -- one at 3, another at 21. The loss has changed her.

"We're human beings and [have] a lot of faults. But there's also things that are really wonderful and beautiful about our species and I think we're worth saving," she said.

"Now that sounds pretty dire, doesn't it? I'm sorry, but I'm telling the truth."

One truth Ms. Cutting cannot deny is that her trip, although she will be driving her hybrid car, will emit carbons. Still, she is calling it a "carbon neutral journey" because she is giving money to clean-energy projects to compensate for the pollution.

"In doing what I'm doing, I can end up doing more good," she said.

And even she has a hard time keeping track of what exactly she is doing. Starting Saturday however, she will drive up to Prince Rupert and then take a ferry to Skagway, Alaska. From there she will drive to Whitehorse and eventually fly to Tuktoyaktuk, NWT.