Monday, June 21, 2010

Father's Day in Barrow

At $18 a head we decided to skip the Father's Day breakfast at the cafe. Scott and I had almonds, dried fruit, and a granola bar. The boys ate canned fish out of styrofoam coffee cups. Good thing we weren't going after polar bears - their breath would have attracted them from a mile away!

Spent our last day in Barrow birding so the kids could see Spectacled Eiders. At the zoo this has always been one of their favorites - a goofy looking duck with a green hood over top of its head. Sadly they are threatened with extinction (in the wild) in the next 20 or so years. A combination of climate change and hunting of the ducks and their eggs. The boys did get to see them, plus the even odder looking King Eider.

Dave saw lemming tunnels and caught one by hand to the boys delight.

Jill helped us appreciate the arctic flowers that emerged and developed almost over night. The tundra where we found them had been covered in ice just a day or two before. I guess when you don't have much time you get right down to business!

Pintail Duck (my only really good bird picture)

Ran into Denver (the Snowy Owl expert) on the tundra. The thing about birding is that other birders will always stop to see who you are and what you've found. He had a caribou hide strapped to the back of his ATV. A young Inupiaq boy killed it and gave him the hide as a gift. We all tried it out - very warm!

There were sealed holes visible all over the inside of the skin. He told us that warble flies lay their eggs on the legs of caribou. The larva move through the body to the area of the spine and when they are ready to exit they cut holes in the caribou skin. I have a new respect and pity for caribou!

On our last drive back to NARL ( - believe it or not I miss riding in the back of that pickup in the arctic air! - ) we stopped to check out some whaling boats (one complete, one just the frame). The frame is hardwood (not sure where they got the wood traditionally since the tundra has no trees) and is covered by Bearded Seal skin from the spring hunt. Boy did that skin smell!

Dave found some baleen nearby. Bowheads are baleen whales. This means they don't have teeth. Instead they have baleen which runs between the upper and lower jaws filtering zooplankton out of the water. The baleen can be as tall as 13 feet!

It astounds me that an animal so large can feed on something so tiny. It made me think about the Gulf oil leak. So much attention goes to the victims that are easily visible and recognizable - the large mammals and birds. What mot people don't realize is the importance of the microscopic world at the base of the food web. I can't even imagine how the leak is affecting the base and what the long term consequences will be.

Picture of most of a whale skull -

Ate one last meal at Pepe's North of the Border. Never did get to do the polar bear plunge. The water along the shore was still frozen to a depth of at least 6 feet. The only water we could have plunged into was effluent from the sewage plant. No thanks! I was not disappointed, but the boys were.

Took an hour or so flight back to Fairbanks. Despite the casual appearance of the airport (park your truck right in front, anybody can walk right in) they took security seriously going through every inch of every bag taken on the plane. Maybe they are looking for illegally hunted or purchased animal products as well.

On the plane met Benjamin, a 7th grade Inupiaq boy from Barrow Middle School. He was headed to Boy Scout camp in Fairbanks. Sitting next to Scott he told him about going on a whale hunt (a successful one) this spring, and having successfully hunted polar bear and caribou. Elliot yelled across the aisle to ask if he was a football fan. He likes the Steelers. I have his science teacher's email and am hoping maybe we could do a joint project of some sort next year. Would be neat to "meet" Benjiman again in this way.

An uneventful arrival in Fairbanks, but interestingly we all immediately noticed the smell of trees when we passed through the airport doors. Hadn't noticed them before, but I guess being somewhere with no trees whatsoever makes you more sensitive to their scents.

I miss Barrow already. I hadn't expected it to take hold of me like it did. It's not beautiful to the eye in the way of Denali or Matanuska, but it has a peacefulness that is beautiful in its own right. Whether its the isolation or something else, it gets to your soul.

1 comment:

jennifer.licata said...

I'm loving your pictures, stories, and teacher talk! Amazing! Can't wait to hear about it first hand and figure out how we are adding this to our 6th and 7th grade programs!!!