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May 31, 2005


I’m at the top of the world! And I don’t mean that I’m feeling good. Well, not to say that I’m feeling bad—I just mean that I’m in Barrow, which is just about the northernmost point of the United States. That is to say, I’m on the north coast of Alaska.

I flew up here on Sunday—or at least, I started to. I managed to completely miss my first flight by sleeping through takeoff. As in, I was still in my bed in my apartment when the plane took off. I don’t recommend doing this. I am certainly known to be a sleeper, and I can sleep through an alarm or two, but when I woke up and felt like it was just a little too light for what it should have been and looked at the clock and freaked out, my alarm was not going off. The light was on to indicate that the alarm was set, and both the current time and the alarm time were AM, so I really don’t know what happened. All I know is that I slept through my flight.

I caught the next bus to the airport and flew standby to Seattle and rescheduled the rest of my flight, arriving that evening in Anchorage rather than all the way up in Barrow. The flight was cloudy most all the way up to Anchorage, but the clouds turned to flying saucers and scooted apart to reveal glaciers and valleys and mountains just before we arrived.

My bag was missing from my flight and I had no place to stay, so I gave my info to the baggage trackers and called a hotel and was on my way. Ate and went to sleep and my bag came in so I woke up to go get it and went back to sleep and then was up again for a 6 AM flight to the far north.

Barrow. It is a small community which is mostly native, dating back to prehistoric times, but which also has a mix of state workers and educators and a small college and, most importantly for me, a science station (BASC--Barrow Arctic Science Consortium). The native community is centered greatly around subsistence whaling of the bowhead whale.

[A view of the grounds of the college and BASC, which share facilities established and once used by the US military.]

[The entrance to the college. Out front are an adult and a juvenile bowhead whale skull.]

[A weathered ship's bow near the shore of the Arctic ocean.]

I am here working in part with a group of five up from University of Texas, El Paso, and their colleauges. Tonight, for one of the student's (Adrian’s) 23rd birthday, or really just because, we all went on a walk out onto the sea ice to play Jesus and walk on water. And not just any water, but the Arctic ocean. We were treated to some moody lighting and natural ice sculptures.

After our walk, we had a little party in the lab. We tried all things that taste bad: tequila, scotch, and maktak.

[Raw whale skin and blubber.]

I couldn’t swallow it. I’ll admit it up front. I couldn’t bear to not be a sport and try it, but it was so salty (I put a lot of salt on it) and fishy and mostly fishy that maybe if I had plugged my nose to counter some of the fishiness I could have done it but I just couldn’t. I am weak, so weak…

Posted by beth at May 31, 2005 11:11 PM