27 March, 2002
Next stop - the North Pole! Just kidding, but it is a realistic statement. This has been another incredible day at a latitude just above 71 degrees!!
The day began with a 2 hour practice snow machine trip out past Point Barrow with temperatures at almost minus 20. The intent of the trip was to be sure I could drive one (no problems, of course!) and to be sure my clothing was suitable for the cold (also, no problem). My intent of the trip was to get a feel for playing in the Arctic and to search for a Polar Bear (Ursus arctos). I finished almost completely satisfied - the 'play' part was definitely fun as we moved across frozen snow and ice. The idea of zooming across the frozen Chuckchi Sea of the Arctic Ocean was fascinating. I mean, here I am, on a frozen ocean, swerving around ice chunks pushed up along the pressure ridge, pausing to see deep cracks in the ice where it could potentially break up, and then stopping to stand in the exact same place a polar bear had just walked by! We didn't see the young, white great hunter, but the tracks left were enough to raise my heart rate. We walked around the area, observed the bear's scat, an arctic fox den and the vastness of the frozen land. A thought that continued passing through my mind was - "This is great, but how it will it feel tomorrow when we are 90 miles from the nearest village? No buildings, people, power lines, or research stations visible?
The rest of the day was spent in Barrow as I spent the afternoon at Barrow HS and some of the late morning and late afternoon listening in to a Fish and Game Management Committee of the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation. At both places, I was able to sense the traditions of the areas, as well as some underlying concerns they are dealing with. The high school mascot is the Barrow Whalers. They take much pride in the fact that their basketball teams made it to the state tournaments again this year and the fact that their school is in the Guinness book of world records for the most expensive school ever built. The entire building (as well as all buildings in this town) is built up on a platform due to the thawing of the top layer of ground in the spring. Even though it sits about 4 feet above the ground, it includes a swimming pool, great gym, auditorium, weight room, and of course classrooms. As I entered, I did notice how quiet the halls were during class time (hint to my students - students were actually in their rooms not wandering the halls!!!!)
At the Fish and Game meeting, a representative from each village of the North slope borough was allowed to express concerns regarding hunting and fishing, and then representatives from different government organizations presented information regarding research, industry and exploration. It is very clear that many are concerned about the potential impact of continued exploration and drilling. It is more obvious being here how many villages do depend directly on wildlife for subsistence. Hunting and fishing are not just sports, they are a way of life.
While listening to them talk, it took much concentration to understand what some were saying, as the native Inupiak language is still used by many. Even within the high school, classes are provided that utilize the language and art work of Inupiat people. For example, the name of the small community college here is Ilisagvik ("a place to learn"), Lake Teshekpuk, where I'll spend the summer researching is named Tasiqpak Narvaq (Big Lake) and the Arctic Ocean is called Tagiuq (means salt).
So, now I prepare for the next 4 days - snow machining into the Great White North. I'll be back in touch to share all the adventures with you on Sunday night! Happy Easter!
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