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"

Monday, June 15, 2009

Day 15 --beautiful weather and eight Bears at the point!!

Today was great weather, cold but clear and sunny. When we got to the point this morning there was a mother bear and three cubs which is really rare, sometimes they have two but 3 is really unusual because it takes so much more work to feed the extra(s) there was 2 bears on the bonepile and some idiot in a pickup was parked there and through the bionoculars when the bigger bear passed in front of the pickup he came up to the middle of the windshield, so he was pretty big, there was also a smaller bear on the bonepile and Perry and Miles ( the bearguards) claim they saw two more but I did not personally see them so I can only claim 6. The unfortunate part was they were all so far away that there was no possibility of pictures. We went over to the bonepile at lunch thinking we might find one but not today. Tomorrow we get some heavy equipment coming out to try to remove some of the overburden from the Ipitak area, which is showing more wood coming out of the bluff. The weekend kinda sucked the weather was cold and foggy, I rented Vasha's ATV from her and took two trips out to the point ferrying a couple of the San Diego State University kids out so they could say that they had stood at the northernmost point in the continental United States, also to look for Bears and bear tracks, we found 3-4 sets of tracks but no bears. It really is a shame they come all this way to do research and can't get to use an ATV to go the last 9 miles to the point because of the safety restrictions.
With the pictures this time is a shot of an Arctic Fox that was hunting by the fence at the lab if you click on it and enlarge it's really pretty decent, a shot of Tiana and Vasha because the begged to be put in, and a couple of shots of a wood feature that was a grave but the remains are probably down the bluff. Saturday there was a party at my old hut, 268, and there are no libations left anywhere in NARL.
that all for this rendition, more to come.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

day 8 pictures

Its starting to feel more like Barrow, cold, windy fun!!

Being in the field is a whole lot better than hanging around the lab for the past week or so--Yesterday was warm (40) and not much wind. We surveyed and set out lines. with so many of us (13) we got 2 and 1/2 lines done in only a couple of hours. That's about 125 test pits. During the survey we found 3 features at the edge of the bluff that we started excavating today. One we haven't started, one was a historical midden with scattered remains, and the one I worked on all day today, is a folded fur hide or a series of hides that have been stacked. We took samples today and will attempt to unravel or unstack it tomorrow to make sure there is not anything in it. Small childen have been found in hide piles like this. Usually adults were laid on caribou fur and children on polar bear fur, so we'll see tomorrow. I'll post a picture of the small toy arrow point we found in close proximity to the hide pile.
We saw one bear yesterday on the bone pile and two others out on the ice today about 300 yards away, one smaller one that was limping and the othewr was this beautiful large golden bear about the color of French's mustard. Way too far to get pictures. I'll post some pictures of the bone pile, which is the remains of last falls bowhead hunt which took 18 individuals. They decided this year not to bury the bones since the bears just dug them up last year anyway. Laura is going down to Anchorage for her last prenatal appointment, so I'll be doing most of what she does for the next few days, lots and lots of micromanaging.
I almost forget to tell the most fun part of the day, that feature we are digging is at the edge of the bluff and the bears had dragged a few large pieces of whale over to it and as the whale aged the oils leached out and soaked into the gravel. since it does not evaporate it remains really viscous and when you move a trowel or shovel of gravel it doesn't stay put it slumps and looks like little gravel worms trying to escape. Not Nice! the other fun thing is the smell, not horribly unpleasent but strong and it latchs onto your clothes and won't ket go--all good fun--

Monday, June 8, 2009

Back in Barrow--day 6

Back in Barrow after almost exactly a year--There is WAY,WAY less ice this year than last. They only took 4 whales this year rather than the 11 they took last spring and the 18 they took in the Fall hunt. Don't know if it means anything yet--probably just part of the normal cycle. We've spent the last week training the new high school kids, only three back from last year, 7 new with two of them from the villages. One from Atkasuk which has only 250 people so Barrow seems huge to her.
Finaqlly got out to the point today with some of the new NSF grad students, convinced Perry the bear guard that the best way to train them to ride ATV's was to take them out slow and easy, which worked out fine. It looks like we lost abou 5 meters of coast over the winter including most of the Driftwood Feature that the Ipituak stuff was found in. Other than that we're in pretty good shape. Tomorrow will be our first real day of work out there. So we'll see how everyone feels tomorrow--There are two of us returning, with 5 new, one from Australia, two from Anchorage, one from Washington and one from New York. all seem nice. The new York guy has two books coming out on the andean Ice Maidens from Peru. One lady from Anchorage is studying maritime boat building in Sweden and Tasmania. Will write more in the next day or two--The poictures are of artifacts we recovered last year in the field--Enjoy--