Sunday, July 12, 2009

Day 39 Heading home--Decompressing--

Day 39—Heading home—Decompressing—

We spent the last days in the field removing that burial I mentioned in the last post and yesterday, the absolute last day in the field, we shot in over 400 test pits and backfilled the same 400 pits. I was the one holding the stadia rod and moving like a jackrabbit from hole to hole. It looks like we were never there. Laura was driving an ATV towing a wooden pallet to smooth out what we backfilled. We did this, naturally, in the pouring rain, not a drizzle, not a gully washer, just steady rain all bloody day. The rain and fog did not prevent “boating” we could hear gunshots pretty much all day. The ice has moved offshore and there has been open water for the last few days so the boats are launching and heading for the ice offshore to hunt bearded seals, ring seals and walrus.
We got a real good picture of the project crew at the end of the day that I’ll post as well as one of a killdeer nest inside a caribou skull nailed to the outside of building 553.
Question that I get a lot is “Will you come back here next year?” If there is a project—Yes I would. I like it up here, I eat healthier, work harder (physically at least) drink less (not by choice!) and socialize more. I enjoy the company of the “kids”—they are not really kids, but adults lingering in front of their lives, like waiting at the top of a slide to start the descent (stolen from Charles Wohlforth—beautiful imagery) They are bright, energetic, (and lazy sometimes also) intelligent and adventurous, I think you have to be to even come up here let alone stay for 6-12 weeks. Tom and I spent a lot of time at 268 with the SDSU and UTEP groups (both doing climate research) playing cards, charades (Yes I know, silly but fun and you can’t give them anything that references a date before 1985, because they have no clue what you are referring to). Rene got one of mine—Magnum Force---that 70’s Clint Eastwood movie and she had never heard of it so the only Magnum she knew was the condom, which she tried to act out—hystetrical!! We got into a huge discussion over dinner one evening in the cafeteria as to whether Zombies or Vampires would win in a battle, then it evolved into would Care Bears be able to convert Zombies with their “cuteness powers” I haven’t laughed that hard for a long time.
Some one made the statement that you need 5 quality human interactions in a day to stay mentally healthy. That is not always an easy thing to do. That does not count emails, facebook, twitter, or other electronic communications. Face to face contacts only with 5 different people. Not an easy thing to do. Another discussion springboarded off that, first we had to qualify and define what constitutes a quality contact. We started with sex and worked our way backwards to ordering coffee at Starbucks. Never could find a decent dividing line of what differentiates quality from non-quality human contact.
Our Archaeology group basically stayed in the hut—not the same thing at all, all nice people but lower energy levels, not a critique, just an observation. No one seemed to want to venture out to meet new people, which is one of the real attractions of Barrow for me, and as long as they’ll let me hang with them, and they are comfortable with that, I’m good.
One other thing that is attractive, for me, is the Inupiat lifestyle, built on subsistence hunting. It is really about respect and humility ( again sparked by Wohlworth’s writing)-- respect for the animals, respect for the environment and respect for the weather. According to Wohlforth, they feel that animals have the same kind of spirits that people do and disrespecting them and their sacrifice of giving themselves to the people as food could easily result in a failed hunt next time or in a fatal event. The whales are given a drink of fresh water when hauled ashore, to ensure that they have been treated correctly and that the spirit of the whale will tell other whales and they would allow themselves to be taken. It was the title of a book “The Whales They Give Themselves”. The ice cellars MUST be cleaned out before the spring whale hunt of all food,-- geese, ducks, caribou, seals, fish and walrus as well as whale so the whales will know that they are expected and appreciated and needed.
It is a totally different way of looking at human/animal interactions, not as predator and prey but as partners inhabiting the same universe.. They have nothing but respect for the other predators, polar bears, wolves, foxes, eagles—all top level predators that have skills that people do not. They do their own acquisition hunting and butchering. They can make the connection from the rifle shot to the meat on the plate in a more direct way than almost anyone down south can. They buy supplies from Stauqpak but usually not meats. I think way too many of us are disconnected from the food we consume and the factory farming that produces it with absolutely no respect for the animals involved. Animals are meant to live the lives that animals should live, not be assembly lined like non living creatures. Just because we can do it does not mean we should do it.
Sport and trophy hunters get no respect. They will gladly guide, for the money and maybe the meat, but mainly the money. Catch and release fishing makes them crazy. Why would you play with and torture your food and not accept the sacrifice? Most catch and release fish die anyway, and are not utilized—disrespectful.
As far as the weather goes, it is NOT tough and manly to refuse admit you are cold and suffering. Admit it and get help. If you think you are tougher than the weather, just wait awhile and see what the weather has in store for you up here. The Ice—always respect the ice and how fast it can change and the danger it poses while whaling or even boating. When the ocean is open the wind can move ice over a great distance an ivu can occur—an ivu is massive blocks of sea ice pushed on shore that can crush pretty much anything. The frozen family found in 1986 was probably the victim of an ivu and they were up on a bluff in town. Mother,father and little girl, crushed by the ice and preserved for hundreds of years. The Borough throws up huge berms of sand to protect the road from incursions of sea ice.
The humble part is recognizing that any mistake or turn of bad luck can, and
probably will, hurt, maim or maybe even kill you.
This will be my last entry for this season, hope you enjoyed and will look forward to doing it again.
Pictures are one of the group that can be enlarged and zoomed, one or two of the killdeer nest, one of bowhead whale scapula, one of tundra flowers and one of the bearguards hard at work —I somehow managed to catch them both yawning at exactly the same moment, and lastly one of the Quonset huts where we live on a misty foggy spooky day.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Trench People

Almost forgot the most important pictures--these are the trench people, from left to right, Tiana, Jackie and Flora and the other one is Tiana and flora.

Day 35-- 4 days and a wake up

Day 35, 4 days and a wake up to go

It is difficult to believe that there is only 4 days left in this fieldseason. From a burials found standpoint it has been a disappointing season, only 3 found as opposed to the 15 we found last year. We’ve covered the same amount of ground and dug the same amount of test pits if not more, in less than half the time but they do appear to be thinning out pretty dramatically.
The kids, Tiana, Jackie and Flora and I finally finished the trench of slow death. I’ll include a picture or two of them and some of the trench. It is a new form of underwater archaeology, get down to the permafrost-- wait for it to melt, dig a deep hole in the back of the trench and pump out the water. Who knew hot wiring a Honda ATV battery to a sump pump inside a plastic milk crate could be so effective? Up here that is a valued skillset. We pumped over 200 buckets on Monday. We don’t have enough hose to get it over to the ocean so we have to carry the buckets the last 40-50’ or so. We only fill them half way otherwise it just plain gets too heavy. After that we work in somewhat soggy gravel trowling and brushing to get the drift line debris excavated. Again, a disappointment, no Iputak material. But towards the end, larger pieces were being exposed but were running back into the north and east walls, when the bulldozer back dirt piles were. Removing them, especially with the few days we had left did not make any sense.
Last Friday, and Saturday were the July 4th games, with the “top of the world baby contest” and the “top of the world miss teen contest” both of which were judged on the elaborateness of the parkas they were wearing. I’ll include a couple of shots of them. It was beautiful weather working on Thrusday, Bitterly cold and windy on Friday and Saturday, so much so they had to cancel the Umiak races which are the real main event. Sunday, we had a barbecue over at Anne’s house all of 50’ away, and the weather was 60 degrees, and sunny, absolutely gorgeous day, so much so there were actual mosquitoes buzzing about. Monday at work, the weather was wonderful, today foggy and cold. There were six teachers from New England out at the point with us today doing a six day tour to try to figure out how to present climate change in an intelligent way to 7th and 8th graders. The kids at lunch were great telling them about using snowmobiles to “water skip” over open water leads out on the ocean during whaling season and that some days at school they had polar bear alerts, and have to be escorted to the busses and home.
I was going to take one of the UTEP kids out to the point after work, but Vasha, who I rent the ATV from, sprained her ankle climbing on a chair to reach for hair conditioner, and could not drive her foot shifter ATV out to work, (always some kind of drama!) so I just postponed, because of that, although I could have solved the problem of how to go into town to get the machine but the weather was just too foggy to make sense of the trip. We could only see about 50-75 yards, and even I get a bit nervous with a foot shifting ATV that does not perform as well as an automatic in deep gravel. I usually take riders down to the Eastern end of Plover point which is about a mile and a half S.E of the point, but it is not very wide, maybe only 50 yards at some points and if a bear gets between us and the point--- our escape route--- we would have a real problem.
Vanessa was kind enough to share the three bear pictures, Perry the bear guard got them within about 20 yardbears of the 2 of them to take these. I found the bear tracks myself on the east side of the small freshwater lagoon, in soft sand, nice clean prints.
The net has been down and I haven't been able to post, it is now thrusday with one day and a wake up to go--one of the pictures I posted I really hesitated over because it isn'r exactly flattering, Shane took it at Nalatuk, and caughr me watching the blanket toss.
We pulled out an interesting burial today, a subadult roughly 14-16 years old, sex undetermined at present but both feet were cut off at the distal end of the metatardsals, the phananges and the ends of the metatarsals were cut cleanly away. the oly thing I could figure is they got frostbitten and had to be amputated but the gangrene(?) had already advanced. There was NO healing indications on the cut end of the metatarsals.

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

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Day 23 more pictures

June 25th Day 23, Eskimo Dance and Bears--

The week has been exceptionally cold and windy--the temperature is fine in the low to mid 30's but the wind is always in the 25-35MPH range which brings your actual working temp down around 0-5-10 degrees. We've been working at the driftwood feature and the huge trench the bulldozer dug for us--The dozer took it down 1M where it hit permafrost, we've been waiting fopr the melt and have been pumping it out with a sump pump taped inside a milk carton and covered with window screen to keep the gravel out. The pump does not have enough hose to get it over the berm and into the ocean so we pump it into buckets and carry them up the gravel ramp and 40' to the ocean. We've pumped out about a foot of permafrost roughly about 2,000 gallons. We need to get down another 1/2 meter to hit the drift line wood level that we are looking for. We pretty much hit it today and we ( the high school kids and myself, who now think of ourselves as the "Trench People" were happily working away in our little 50 cm X 50 cm patches when Perry, the bear guard who was standing right in back of the trench screamed, BEAR!,BEAR!, BEAR! MOVE,MOVE,MOVE!. We exploded out of the trench like a covey of quail going in all directions. The bear(s), a mom and a 2 year old cub were coming right toward us but 100 years or better out on the ice. All of us thought the bear was like, 30 yards away and charging because of Perry's attitude. I got some decent pictures of them and there were 2 others, both males who showed up later. Click on the pictures and they will magnify right up. We were downwind of them so they knew we were there but didn't know what we were. They angled over to the bone pile, and the other large male that was headed our way angles over to our East. Anne said this was the first toime they actually had to stop work to deal with the bears.
Earlier in the week, Tuesday, I think, Flora, a junior, invited us to a rehersal of their Eskimo dance. Four of us went and stayed for 2 hours, the drummers were very very neat. I'll post some pictures of them. The men drum and sing/chant in Inupiat, the women dance and they move their hands but their feet stay stationary. Very much like Hawaiian but no hip movement. The men apparently dance, but that night there was only one showing the young boys how to dance. They were like, 6-8. The chanting and drumming can get hypnotic but the songs are fairly short. When you look at the pictures, the drums are struck from underneath and the end of the drumstich actually hits the rim and the middle of the drumstick actually hits the middle of the drum. I couldn't tell what the drums were made of so I asked--The outer membrane of the Bowhead Whale liver. Who knew?? They also lubricate it every once in a while with some sort of viscous fluid in a styroform cup but I didn't find out what that was.
For those of you who asked, Yes I am actually working on my project, but mainly on the weekends and on parts of the discussion section on basketry and cordage.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Day 18,

Not a lot of drama going on this week, we had a short week because Friday was Nulukatuk, the whale sharing ceremony, and we got the day off, mainly because the kids would not work anyway. Some went some didn't--it was bitterly cold on Friday but less so than during the week, the wind was especially harsh at the point.
For those of you who can't visualize it, I'll detail what I wear. First underwear, of course, than two pair of thermal bottoms, plus jeans and a windbreaker pair of pants. Under the boots are a pair of light thermal socks than a pair of merino wool socks and then the -25 Columbia boots. The top is thermals, with a sweat shirt (thank you Matt Johnson!) a regular shirt because I need a pocket for pens and such and Matt Grant's heavy ski jacket over that. The head had a full face polyproplene mask plus the wrap around collar from the jacket and the hood is pulled over the head, which is already covered by Polartec hat. The hands are glove liners with a pair of heavy insulated gloves to top them off, the last thing to go on is the goggles for the ride out to the point.
We've been having water issues, since the internal cistern only holds 200 gallons and there are 8 of us that works out to about 25 gallons each for showers, laundry, toilet and cooking, we do pretty well but last weekend we were out of water from Saturday afternoon till Monday evening when we got back from the field. We got creative and used the shower/bathroom that the Fish and Game people have at the lab that they never use, and transported about 20 gallons at a time back to the hut.
They took all of out DNA samples last year for the modern/ancient DNA project that they are running up here to rule out contamination. Today they had to take mine again as they said the previous sample had NO DNA in it at all , so I'm known around the lab as "The Alien" or some sort of non-carbon based life form, so Lois's suspicions all these years are proven correct.
Perry, the older of the two bear guards, came over, during lunch where Laura, Anne and I were sitting and sat down. The following ensued. He related the story of someone asking if he know how to sing, he answered that he did and they asked him if he wanted to learn the Elder's Song. He said that he did and he then asked if we (Anne, Laura and myself) wanted to hear it. In a thin melodious chant he receited his genealogy going back four generations and howthey teach him something every day and live in his home and in his prayers. There were several other verses also but the effect was somewhat magical coming (and certainly anthropological)from the purest Inupiat hunter that I've met up here. An instance of how they are trying to revive and save their cultural roots and traditions.
We were at Saturday school yard today and the meeting before ours ran late so I sat in on it and it was about how to incorporate Elder knowledge of the landscape and Animal migration patterns with GIS and GPS technologies. Also how to communicate that knowledge between generations of the elders who still speak mainly Inupiat, the middle generation who speak it and english and are somewhat computer literate and the younger generation who know no Inupiat and are totally computer literate. After kicking around various alternatives including webcasts, and web sites, the suprising suggestion was, of all things, Facebook, where you can restrict the number of "friends" and is a seriously effective social networking alternative.
Pictures, this time are of an Ulu we found, a polar bear metatarsal, a 20' X 10' X 1 meter ditch that a bulldozer dug in less than 2 hours behind the driftwood feature(comparing it to the other trench that we dug with 11 people working 5 days for about 500 manhours)and a view of the multiple testpits we've dug oin part of the site--
More later--- many bears but all far out on the ice, what we're calling "binocular bears"