Saturday, June 29 – expecting a very early start, I slept at Shelly Scott’s house on the Mashantucket Pequot Reservation; left 2:30am to meet Crissy Gray, Ashanti Kelly, Brianna Sebastian, and Shaquanna Sebastian at tribal community center; Tina Menihan “begged” me to drive everyone to Hartford; we spent all day in transit Hartford > Minneapolis > Seattle > Anchorage > Barrow. Arrived safely in Barrow and met by Leslie Pierce of the North Slope Borough and Timothy Luke and Joseph, two of the young men from Point Lay. Leslie gave us a tour of Barrow – we saw sea ice breaking apart, the remains of a 54-foot bowhead whale on the beach (it had been killed and butchered in the days prior to our arrival). We were given some meat (muktuk – the skin and blubber, muscle/meat, and kidney or heart) and I had some for dinner; Saw bearded seal skin umiaks and umiak frames; went to the one store in town to buy groceries – milk was $10/gallon!; dropped our bags at the Arctic Research Laboratory; chatted with Yosty, and Inupiaq woman who attends the University of Alaska and is an intern at the Research Lab. Leslie warned to beware of polar bears if we went outside; walked around town until 12:30 am and saw bowhead whale skulls, vertebrae, and scapulae all over; it was sunny! 24 hours of sunlight!!!
Sunday, June 30 – woke up and got ready for our final leg of the trip to Point Lay. Checked in at the airport by 10:30 and grabbed breakfast at the store. Flew in a 10 passenger plane about an hour west to Point Lay. Amazing landscape on the coastal plain with the thawing tundra, rivers, oxbows, ponds to the south and the varicolored sea ice to the north. We arrived at Point Lay and were quickly and warmly welcomed by the Inupiaq/Eskimo community. The village population is about 250. Houses on stilts, gravel roads, churches, a store, school, etc. everyone rides around on ATVs, walks, or is on bikes. Met Robert Suydam, Hans, Andy, and Tracy Romano. The mosquitos are unbelievably numerous – zillions – and aggressive – swarming if there is no breeze! Bug netting jackets are a lifesaver. The local folks are barely bothered by them. Spent time at Marjorie Long’s house (she has wifi), Willard Neakok stopped by and we chatted – he’s been involved with the Point Lay student exchange for 5 years. He talked about hunting different types of animals and a tradition of letting the first group or herd pass. Others would follow and that hunting the first group would deflect all subsequent groups. He told me how the beluga hunt would occur at Point Lay. Met Gertie who stopped by to sell earrings made of walrus ivory, baleen, and mammoth tusk as well as a mammoth tusk bracelet. Later got tours around the village by Marjorie sitting on her ATV and we looked for a caribou that was reported to be near the village. Eventually saw it in the tundra outside of the village! Met Robert and Rhoda across the street (son and daughter of the whaling captain Julius). Robert had just killed two walrus and had their heads on a table outside and was butchering, bagging, and distributing the rest. We took a large slab over to Marjorie’s on her ATV. Village kids love to visit and get news about their new guests! Several stopped by during the day. Had dinner (appetizers – more bowhead; spaghetti and meat sauce) and then off to catch and tag seals with Robert, Andy, Leslie, and Ashanti. We went out on two zodiac boats to Five Mile Pass and then into the Chukchi Sea; we saw lots of seal but didn’t catch any in the nets. We returned after 4 hours (10:30pm – yup still bright light!). I stopped by Marjorie’s to check email and catch up with the girls. Marjorie and her husband Hubert have six Kids – Lloyd, Hubert Jr., Carolyn, the twins – Rupert and Danny, and 2-year-old Jake. Hubert cooked the walrus and I had some of the meat, skin and blubber. It was excellent!! Looking forward to trying caribou and seal!
Monday, July 1 – slow start to the day. Fog held off the beluga scouting parties in the morning. Walked around town a bit and saw folks butchering ugruk (bearded seal), aiviq (walrus). Stopped by the Firehouse to use wifi. When I got back to the house 613 (our home base), Jim Jim stopped by hoping to sell some ulus, the cutting/butchering tool – one with a walrus ivory handle and the other with caribou antler handle ($75 each). A group of boys stopped by again – Jeremy (age 9), Sammy Henry (age 12), and Nathan Henry Jr. (age 11) stopped by to visit (yesterday Kenneth (age 12) was with Jeremy and Nathan Jr.).
Each house has walkie-talkies that are used for intra-village communication (yes, everyone hears). These are used rather than phones (though phone/cell phones connect folks to areas outside the village). Regularly, the walkie-talkies would go off in the house prefaced with “good morning, good morning” or “good evening, good evening” and then the message. Throughout the day, chatter from folks like Willard, about whale scouting parties, preparing boats, getting fuel. By dinner a pod of about 100 whales had been sighted about 20 miles south at Neakok Pass and a level of intensity emerged from the community preparing guns and harpoons. The beluga research team (Tracy, Robert, Andy, Hans, Leslie) began gearing up and letting the Pequots and I know that we would be heading out in the next few hours. The belugas would be herded toward the Five Mile Inlet. At about midnight news came that the belugas had headed out to sea. The wait continues. Robert, Leslie, and I went out for a hike till about 3 am. Solitude…