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.