Tuesday, June 30, 2009
Day 27, Nalatuk, Blanket toss and Eskimo Dancing
Last Friday and today, Monday have been truly beautiful days to work out at the point, temp about 30-35 degrees, sunny and most importantly, NO wind. No bears except a few small binocular bears way out on the ice. Across from our hut is the Chuchi Sea, about 50 yards out from front door, the ice has moved out about 100 yards offshore and Saturday there were about 100-150 ring seals sunning themselves on it about ¼ mile out on the ice. The ice at the point is still shorefast and not looking to break up and move anytime soon. I'll post a picture but you need to click on it and hit the zoom or enlarge it to pick up the seals.
We went to Nalatuk on Saturday, its very casual, people leave, come back, mill around visiting. Each major family has a spot inside the windbreak enclosure which is about 75 yards across and constructed as an oval with an opening for the pickup trucks delivering the 50-60 pound boxes of whale. There were about 75-80 boxes offloaded and distributed to each family around the oval. Any one who wants any can just ask and they will get some. So far I think I’ve sampled almost all of the various types and preparations. Gak is the best, just small bite sized chunks of frozen whale meat, lean, absolutely no fat. The outer 6-8-12” of blubber is muktuk, and tastes a lot like raw herring, slightly oily. The black outer skin is very chewy, like the consistency of gummy bears, but good. This year the new one for me was intestine sliced thin and in cross section looks like a mushroom, no real taste, just chewy, but good. They also serve duck and caribou soup before hand, and cake afterward. The blanket toss is supposed to start at 8 or 9 but there is no real schedule, this year it didn’t start till 10:30, and ran until 1AM. They the whole show moves indoors for the Eskimo dancing, which I described in the last entry. We stayed until 2:30 and called it a day. The pictures are mostly of blanket tossees at the peak of the toss and caught in silhouette against the sun behind a haze of clouds.
Earlier in the day there was a school year lecture given by Tracy who has spent the last 11 years in logistical support at the South Pole Station and McMurdo station. Their seasons are reversed, so their summer season starts in October and the summer runs to about March. This year she came up here for Barrow’s summer season--- interesting lifestyle.
I finally met the Indian Health Service lead dentist, and after the lecture, she, I, MacKensie, the current dental extern and a contract nurse from the hospital named Cathy went for a ride out Gaswell road, looking for critters. Cathy describes herself as a “hooker”, because she goes out on the ice with the whaling crews in May, and her job once a whale is landed, and the strip cuts in the outer skin and blubber are started is to “hook” a piece of skin/blubber and peel it off the whale, hence the name, hooker since they use a curved meat hook. We saw some ducks and 3 swans but they were far enough away that the pictures are discernable as birds but little else. Also saw the first and maybe only snowy owl of the season. Denver, the snowy owl guy has not made an appearance so far this year. The owls have a means by which they do a fly over and access the plentitude of lemmings and whether there is enough to raise a brood of chicks, if there is they stay and nest and if not they move on. This year I’ve only seen one lemming, and it was squished on the road; where last year you couldn’t move without stepping on or having to dodge lemmings—they were everywhere. So no lemmings this year, therefore no owls. Gaswell road is the longest road around here but it is only 8 miles long. It is called Gaswell because the natural gas well that supplies the town with gas for heating and cooking is located there and the pipeline follows the road. Driving out to look for birds and wildlife is recreation in Barrow, along with bonfires of shipping pallets on the beach..
Observations---being isolated geographically and culturally is a curious experience. We have no TV, and no one seems to care. The only way we knew Michael Jackson had died is the kids let us know. There is no newspaper here, the closest thing is the Fairbanks whatever and is usually two days old and only has local news. The Arctic Sounder is here also and has local news for the North Slope, which is Barrow, Wainwright, Point Hope and the villages like Atqasuk, and Anatuvek Pass. We do have internet access,-- mostly—right now its down and has been for the better part of two days, nobody is freaking out, its Barrow, and that is just the way it is, you cope, you adapt. There is one radio station, KBRW, AM and FM, with different programming, On the AM band at 7 PM there is the Birthday hour, where anyone can call in and wish some one a happy birthday, or anniversary as long as they are not inebriated. There is only one store, Stapuk, which means big box in Inupiat, and it is fairly well stocked, just insanely expensive, a half gallon of milk is $9.49, a loaf of bread is $6.25, oranges are $2.79 a pound, bananas are the same. A 12 pak of soft drink, on sale is $12.00, Doritos are on sale 2/$11—normally $9.49 a bag and that’s not the big bag either. One pound bag of pretzels is $8.69. A can of Spam, on sale, is $5.19.--- you get the idea. The point is that fewer choices does not make for a deprived lifestyle or poorer quality of life, the focus just changes, you live closer to the center of who you are.
The new meal plan has totally changed the food culture here. Last year we each got a food card and you could either eat in the cafateria or go into town and eat at any of the restraunts, they all took our cards--it was basically free food. Now having the choice of buying your own food and cooking at the huts and/or paying out of pocket for the cafateria food has changed the food culture totally. Most people have opted to do their own cooking and some never come to the cafateria--which is sad because the cafateria is where all the social interaction takes place that helps to make Barrow such a unique experience. That is where you meet new people and find out about them and their projects and the research they are doing. It is almost impossible to be a vegan or vegetarian up here, and when they have just beef or pork as the main entree, I'll just get coffee and sit and chat with everyone and make myself a sandwich when I get back to the hut. I've realized I go for the socialization, not the food, I've found I can do quite well on peanut butter and jelly, turkey ham and cheese sandwiches and the occasional cup of soop or pasta side dish with chunks of turkey ham thrown in.
The culture is resilient and adaptative, not technologically adverse at all. Flora, the 10 grade Inupiat dancer was talking to me and some of the other kids today about devising an Archaeology dance, so far she has the hand motions of driving the ATV’s, shoveling, looking through the eyepiece of the transit, holding the stadia rod, and excavating a burial. They are more than willing to reflect their current occupations in their dances, they are not just limited to the traditional ones.
I'll post some seal pictures but you have to zoom or magnify and some blanket toss pictures. Also a couple of the trench unit I'm working in that we have to hotwire the sump pump to the honda to pump out the melted permafrost every morning, anf just for chuckles one of me dressed to ride out in the morning. More to come