Saturday, November 26, 2011

Wainwright to Barrow to Anchorage

Wainwright to Barrow to Anchorage

• Friday, November 25, 2011

We got up at 6:00 to fly back to Barrow at 9 a.m. (we're 3 hours ahead of the Midwest). There is no terminal in Wainwright because the airstrip is smaller than the Charles City airport. We just got a ride from the Olgoonik hotel manager at 8 a.m. in his pickup. Scott was really nice to call ERA Aviation in Barrow to let them know we wanted to come on the morning flight instead of the evening flight. I hadn’t realized until I looked at the tickets last night that we were scheduled for the night flight. The pilot will have our names on his clipboard! Then we are going to see if we can catch an 11:30 a.m. Alaska Airlines flight to Anchorage instead of waiting until 8:30 p.m. That way we'll get to spend more time with our friends Vic and Kathi Johns in Palmer.

It was a bigger plane from Wainwright to Barrow with maybe 18 seats, and there were 4 passengers. They unloaded a lot of freight before we boarded. There’s no TSA security, no baggage tags on your luggage, no checking of your ID. You just put your bags by the cargo door and climb up the stairs! The co-pilot is the baggage handler, and he wears a headlight lamp over his stocking cap to help him unload the cargo. He and the pilot are wearing Carhart coveralls. The freight is loaded into a pickup with “ERA Alaska” painted on the sideboards!

In Barrow we tried to get on the morning flight out of Barrow, but it was full so we came as scheduled on the evening flight. Spent the day at the AC Store in Barrow where we had lunch. We were so thankful that Steve Culbertson had showed us around, and we just got a cab after checking our bags at the airport for the day. The flight from Barrow was not full at all, so we had a row of 3 seats to ourselves. Of course, it has been dark every time we have flown (hey, it’s dark 22 hours a day in the winter), so we didn’t get to see the Brooks Range or any herds of caribou.

The plane stopped in Fairbanks and all but 4 seats are now occupied. When we landed, it really was pretty with the snow. We arrived in Anchorage at 11:30 and came to the Coast International Inn. It was snowing lightly, just like it should on Christmas Eve, and that 's the first falling snow we've been in this year. All that we've seen in Alaska so far has been on the ground or just a few flakes in the air. Yesterday it started at 6 a.m. and was coming down at the rate of an inch an hour, according to our friends in Palmer when we talked to them. 

Friday, November 25, 2011

Wainwright #3

Wainwright #3

•Thursday, November 24, 2011

It's about 12:30 p.m. and the feast is at 1:00. We're in the school gym, and people are bringing their "potlatch" or potluck dishes. So far there is whale meat and blubber, turkey, caribou soup, and a cake frostened to look like a turkey! The gym smells a little fishy because of the frozen whale that they brought in. Terry Tagarook, Carl's Army buddy, has a nephew who is one of the whaling captains. The community got 3 whales in the spring and one this fall. Yesterday the kids told me they were looking forward to "tutu" or caribou and "maktak" or whale blubber.

We took Tootsie Rolls over to the community center before we came here. There is a smaller gathering of about 90 people there, and there will be 250 here. Carl is in his element giving out Tootsie Rolls to the little kids (and bigger kids) as they come in.

Here are photos of Carl and Terry taken yesterday at school. Terry came for one of the classes where Carl showed his slides, and then he came over to the hotel for supper last night. We went through the slides again (and those they didn't show to the kids of the 500), and Terry found himself in a couple of photos. He said he got to Vietnam earlier than Carl and came home first. He commented how HOT it was to him, being from the Arctic, and he REALLY got a dark tan because his complexion is darker.
 Terry rode his snow machine to school.

Here Carl tries on Terry's parka. 

Tomorrow morning we are going to try to fly back to Barrow at 9 a.m. (we're 3 hours ahead of the Midwest). I looked at our ERA Airlines tickets, and we were scheduled for the evening flight, but people tell us there is no problem going earlier, so I left a message with ERA using one of the teacher’s cell phones that we wanted to go on the earlier flight. There is no terminal because the airstrip is smaller than the Iowa Falls airport. We just get a ride from one of the native school personnel at 8 a.m. in their pickup. The pilot will have our name on his clipboard! Then we are going to see if we can catch an 11:30 a.m. Alaska Airlines flight to Anchorage instead of waiting until 8:30 p.m. That way we'll get to spend more time with our friends Vic and Kathi Johns in Palmer. We’ll have to call them from Barrow if we can change our flight.

One of the elders said grace before the meal. Then a woman asked everyone to remember those she named who had passed away recently. At the feast we had caribou soup, duck soup, whale blubber, and whale meat called quaq. First came the caribou soup, which was a broth with rice and caribou which is like venison. Then came the duck soup which we didn’t care for although the duck itself tasted okay. Everything is brought around to people who either sit on school lunchroom tables or sit on the front row of the bleachers and use their cooler as a makeshift table. Some things are given to the elders first—that’s anyone over 60. Then if there is some left, they bring it around again to the younger people. Next they brought around roast turkey to the elders. Then they had spiced apple-peach-and-raisin served warm and fruit salad that had pudding on it. It seemed strange to us because you eat one thing at a time. Then at the end there was an elder in the community who served hot tea.

Then they kept bringing around whale blubber and quaq and even blubber from the fins. That has skin on both ends but there is sort of a cartilage in the middle that is used for teething babies because you can’t really eat it. Some of the whale was from the spring whale and that had a different flavor from the fall whale. The difference is that the spring whale is aged in the ice cellar, and I could tell that the fall whale was fresher.

I really liked the quaq because it was like kind of like dried beef. Terry used his ulu knife to cut the whale because it was frozen. The blubber is sliced into really small slivers with the skin on it, and you eat it with salt. Terry jokingly called it whale sushi, and that wasn’t far from the truth. They also served Sailor Boy Pilot Bread (they’re really crackers which are 3-inch rounds sort of like saltines without salt on the top). They were used back in the 1800s and are a favorite of the Eskimos. Mary Jane, Terry’s niece who is about 40 years old, told me that a box costs $10 in Wainwright at the store, but they only cost $5 a box in Anchorage.

Now it is evening. After the feast at about 4:00 everyone went home to either take a nap or have turkey and pie with their extended families. At about 7:00 people were to gather for the Eskimo dancing back in the school gym. They weren’t really punctual—Terry called it “Eskimo time” meaning they weren’t really prompt and filtered in until about 7:45 when the drums finally arrived. Kids were running around the gym playing the whole time. About a dozen men sat on chairs facing the bleachers and played their flat (like a tambourine) 2-foot in diameter drums with a stick that was a little longer than the drum. Each drum has a short little handle which they hold in the left hand with the stick in the right hand. The men who are the drummers chant and their voices undulate without words.

The girls would bend at the knees in time to the beat and wave first one hand and then the other from in front of them to their sides. This was the Motion Dance (for girls only). Then the whaling captains would come out in certain dances and begin to stomp their feet. Only the men stomped their feet. The whole whaling crew would go out on the floor to dance together with the women and girls doing the hand movements. Then later on a different whaling captain would bring his crew out. Towards the end of the evening the girls did a Motion Dance that they had learned in school. For this once they faced the audience instead of the drummers like for the other dances.

Then a group of boys and young men came out to do the Walrus Dance in which they roared and stomped along with hand movements. Lastly the women did a Motion Dance facing the crowd and they sang as they moved their arms.

There were times when different people got out onto the gym floor from the audience, but most often it was the elementary girls who danced. There were several 5 year olds and younger who did the Motion Dance, and one little toddler boy, the son of a drummer, who got out there and stomped his feet. Many were dressed in their everyday clothes, but a few women and girls had the fabric “parkas” with gathered skirts or their outdoor parkas with the fur. When the whaling captains danced, they often grasped a glove in each hand.

What a unique opportunity it was to see the Eskimo dancing!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Barrow photos #1

Hey, I'm playing catch-up here! Internet access in the village of Wainwright led me to the Alak School (preschool through high school), so I'm staying after school to post our Barrow photos. Wainwright photos will have to wait until we get to Palmer on Friday.

Okay, I got to touch real whale blubber. It was out by the old airport where they butchered the fall whale. A piece of blubber had fallen off as they hauled the bones out to the bone pile away from town to keep the bears away from the people.

 Behind me is the Arctic Ocean—frozen now, of course.

There are whale skulls all over town, like sculptures.

 Even though this photo is blurry, you can see how large the whale skull is.

And notice how red my eye is after I touched the whale blubber and inadvertently rubbed my eye. My finger smelled like fish oil, so I guess I got it in my eye.

Back up a day to Fairbanks. On our way to the airport, our driver from Chena Hot Springs Resort stopped so we could photograph the Alaska Pipeline above ground.

 This is a common photo, taken to look like I'm holding up the pipeline.

This is just outside of Fairbanks.

Pretty impressive.

Back in Barrow. This is the football field press box. Barrow came in second in their division in the state high school football playoffs this year. They used to play on gravel, but Cathy Parker raised money for an artificial turf, and they've had it 5 years. It's blue like the University of Idaho's.

 You can't tell now because of the snow. Football is played in August and September.

 Another view of the Arctic Ocean out by the football field. It is out by the old military airport, and they have armed guards at each corner of the field during games to keep the polar bears away.

 These are summer cabins with palm trees made of baleen (the whale's gills). Families use these cabins for camping in the summer by the ocean.

 These are the tracks of the big front end loader that carried the whale bones out to the boneyard.

 This is the boneyard. As you can see, it's pretty far away.

The beautiful sunset occurred about 2:00 in the afternoon when we were in Barrow.

 This is out by the airport near the boneyard. Farther beyond is Point Barrow and the Wiley Post-Will Rogers crash site. There's no road, so you can only go there on tours in the summer.

Steve and Vanni's school car. That little speck is the boneyard.

This is the whale blubber I touched.

Steve noticed it because of the tracks out to the boneyard and the blood on the ground.

 You can see the blubber in the tracks.

 The Arctic Ocean, actually the Chukchi Sea. From Barrow it's only about 500 miles to Russia!

 A whale skull.

 The moon was visible during the few hours of daylight. We were there Nov. 18-22. On Nov. 20 the sun no longer rose above the horizon. The sky just lightens for a couple of hours each noon.

 The football field.

 Scoreboard on the football field.

 Two whale skulls next to the Welcome to Barrow sign announcing that you are at the "Top of the World."
 This is the above-ground utilador where the electrical and gas lines go across town.

 These are fuel storage tanks outside of town.

 Low-lying fog forced us to return to town because we couldn't see anything.

 This is the satellite farm. Everything has to come from "outside" the North Slope--Internet, TV, etc. Construction materials and cars come by barge in the summer. Groceries come by plane year around.

 The site of a prehistoric native village in Barrow only exists today as mounds that have collapsed. These mounds were early dwellings.

 Barrow has no stop lights--only stop signs. When Steve first went to the North Slope 30 years ago, there we no street signs nor street names. Now all of the streets are gravel. We even saw a road grader clearing the snow off the streets.

 This is Steve and Vanni's apartment building. The school owns apartments for all of the teachers to lease.

 This is the famous whalebone arch near Brower's Cafe. Brower,  a Russian trader was the first white man on the slope.

 Carl and Susan Jacob at the whalebone arch. It actually is made of the jawbones of a whale set on end.

 Steve Culbertson and his wife Vanni Prichard

 Brower's Cafe

 Notice the spelling of Ice Bug lettuce and King Crap

 Brower's Cafe is an historic landmark.

 These are Brower's whaling tools. That's baleen at the top. It's like the gills of a whale that strain out the krill it likes to eat.

 This is the natural gas pipeline. Barrow has natural gas from a depression where a meteor hit.

The utilador under ground has these units, large enough for a man to walk through, to protect the electrical and utilities lines buried in the permafrost.