Saturday, April 29, 2006

Whale snow

There is whale snow falling which is big fat flakes and Chico called to say the wind seems to have changed so it's coming from the east. Could all be happening any minute. Eeeeeeeek. Heard all about the little people last night from Julia and her cousin who lives in Point Hope. The little people live in the hills and aren't often seen but have sometimes helped people when they get lost in the snow. They are called Inuqulurorak. They hang around mostly in autumn when it's dark all day and apparently lived in the villages with ordinary people until there was an argument. Also heard about the role of the whaling captain's wife who has a big spiritual connection to the whale. Apparently the whale watches her quite closely and she has to behave really well if the whale is going to give itself to the people i.e. get caught. Someone who has prophetic dreams has dreamt that Kaleak crew are going to get a whale this year. She dreamt they did last year and they did.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Polar bear tracks!

Chico took this one sometime recently. How cool is that.

Good night

Pressure ridge

This is what happens when the wind is blowing from the west and pushes the ice cap on shore.

Barrow's only husky dog team

No polar bears

Tofu! Yippee!!

Managed to go a whole day without eating meat. Bought two huge blocks of cheese to take whaling after panicking when I saw the shopping list that Eli put together. I've copied and pasted it especially for you Elena.

Whaling Shopping List

Chicken for both soup and fried
Pork Chops
Pork Loin Chops
Hamburger Meat 3-3lbs
Oxtail Meat
2 Pks Tyson Chicken Wings
Seasoning Salt
Vegetarian Vegetable Soup
Tomato Soup
Taco Shells
4 Cans Clams
Carnation Milk
Sloppy Joe Sauce
Soy Sauce
Garlic Powder
Green Peppers
Potato Buds

Eli is one of Julia's three sons who's about 30 and wants to be a chef and live in Hawaii. I'm really glad he is coming whaling. He's going to do the cooking and he says it's ok if I don't want to eat meat all the time and I won't fall in and other reassuring things. This evening Chico took pity and took me to a restaurant that had tofu. He said he was impressed by my 'going outside my comfort zone' but then started on the near death stories about falling in the sea in the antarctic and down crevaces etc etc. He doesn't seem to have a comfort zone. But he has promised to come and rescue me if I ring him in distress on the sat phone. We went to look for polar bears but didn't see any. Am getting to know Julia a bit. She is an incredible lady. Legendary Carl has turned into a legendary Craig and I think I know where to find him. Going to bed because I have to get up early to film Eli making donuts and to eat all the spare ones.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

The elders

Went to see Roberta's granny Bertha. She is ninety something and says even when she was little the elders said that their ocean would one day be free of ice. I am going to see Warren another elder tomorrow. I am trying to work out a way of sending audio because some of it is funny. If anyone knows about podcasts pls point me in right direction... I think we are getting closer to going out whaling. I'm starting to feel very nervous. I've seen the shopping list and it has oxtail soup in it and I have been warned that I will have to do night shift polar bear watch and do the dishes.

My new wardrobe...

This is Julia, she's the whaling captain's wife. She's wearing her special parka. I am wearing a white parka so the whales won't see me when I'm on the ice. It has fur on the inside. Feels totally surreal.

Roberta and her granny

Who is an elder and who I will hopefully meet tomorrow

Herman and his dad

There are loads of great photos like this at the heritage centre

Ice and bone

I ate seven donuts today. Eli makes them and sells them and they will hopefully make me fat quickly so I can eat less meat. I ate reindeer soup too which was nice although I was told off for not eating enough of it. Am learning lots about ice. Apparently the ice that has come to shore this year is glacial ice. That's very rare and it means a bit has fallen off the glacier. It's good because it's fresh water and you can drink it when you're out there but it's also dangerous because it can shatter quickly and it's very tough to cut through when you make a trail to the edge. Perry gave me a piece of whalebone so I tried to make a bowheaded whale using the machines they've got at the heritage centre. They have sandpaper on and it smells like the dentists.

Mine is on the left. The one on the right is my New Zealand whale which I carry around. I was quite pleased with mine but Van who is in charge of Kaleak crew said it looked like a salmon and got on with tying floats on the harpoons. These are some polar bear paws that were outside the heritage centre. Apparently someone called Carl killed it. I still haven't met him but the trail is getting warmer...

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

I live on North Star Street now


It's skin and subcutaneous fat from a whale (I googled it) in wide pink and black stripes. And I had some on crackers for lunch. Am going to google meatloaf now because that's what we're having tonight. Oh god. My family are really nice. They think the idea of a vegetarian is hilarious and I am too thin. I'm part of Kaleak crew and an honorary bloke because I'm foreign (there won't be any other women with this crew on the ice although some go out to cook with other crews) but I got a DON"T EVEN ASK when I picked up the harpoon thing because they thought I wanted to load it. The mayor is a whaling captain, so is the head of the scientific institute. As soon as a lead appears most of the men will rush off onto the sea ice. Went and calmed down after lunch by sitting next to Perry who etches pictures of animals on whale baleen in the back room of the heritage centre. See photo. He wants to learn an English accent because he thinks it's cute. He used to be a whaler but now only one eye works so he does this. He thinks the change in the weather means the world is ending. Tonight's social event is a talk on Bowhead whales off Chukotka, Russia and why the whalers here are friends with the whalers there.

Advice on being cold from Chico

Went to the airport today to see the scientists off. Met loads of people. Also went to the library. Most of the chairs are rocking chairs. Nice. The weather has gone totally white. You can't see much and Chico says the temperature is going to drop. Chico builds research stations for scientists and has had to mend electrical cables in the dark at temperatures below -100 degrees when your skin freezes straight away. I said I was worried about the cold hurting when I'm camping on the ice and he said it's a matter of glass half full half empty and just remember it's going to get warmer again and that the worst bits are what you remember, you don't remember the boring warm days. Hmmm. He's been constructing things at both poles for the last 12 years and has incredible photos. I will try and get some and put them up and pretend I took them.

No water sky yet

Getting ready for whaling

Edith who rescued my glove from the Arctic fox

Monday, April 24, 2006

Found some whalers and my glove!

I've found a whaling crew that will take me out! Went to the Heritage Centre and there was someone mending a sled so I just asked them and they said yes. I'm going to start helping them tomorrow and will stay with them and eat traditional food. Eeeek. Until now have been eating mostly cheese and almonds. The guy in charge of the crew said I mustn't get in the way but with a wink and that they would look out for me. At the moment there is still no water sky. There are small leads appearing but not one big enough for whales yet. Everyone is edgy. It's really sunny. There are several crews breaking a trail through the ice rubble. Apparently last night one of them had to shoot a polar bear because it kept coming even when they shot over its head. The arctic fox peed on my glove that I dropped near their den. A scientist found it for me this morning. Think I will try and go and put my camera there and switch it on and see if they come and play with it. But I'll wrap it in a plastic bag!


I filmed an arctic fox! And a scientist. Lost my glove.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

I am a wimp

Took me ages to summon up the courage to go outside today. It's so cold it made my nose bleed but everyone says it's a nice warm day so I am trying to look like I think that too. Got chased by quite a cute husky dog on the way to the scientists canteen. They were all eating enormous pancakes. One of them has been telling me about something called something like muckyuck which is some part of a whale. Made him stop because if I get offered it I think it will be easier not to know. Am about to go out on a snowmachine with some researchers who are setting up some complicated snow thickness monitoring system. Going to try and film them. Hope my camera (and fingers) survive. I am hearing about a legendary man called Carl who goes out to rescue people when the weather is too bad for helicopters and who cut a passage for the whales when they got trapped by the sea ice after the Navy tried but couldn't break it. I want to meet him!

Beach hut

And there isn't any night

The Arctic Ocean

Arrived in Barrow

Arrived in Barrow yesterday. It is amazing. There is white as far as you can see. The sea is frozen and looks the same as the land. The sky is the same too. It makes you want to just start walking off into it. Except it's so cold that the bottle of water I was holding started to freeze within 5 minutes. Apparently you acclimatise. Hope so. Went for a walk with Marie from Czech republic who's in the photo and is living in LA and had just come up the side of Alaska by ferry. Someone on a snowmachine stopped us and warned us that polar bears might be behind the blocks of ice stalking us. And the taxi driver said that if you're in a car to a polar bear's eye you look like a seal under the ice! They can run 40 miles per hour. But they shouldn't be interested in eating people unless they are very hungry and they shouldn't be very hungry. There are snowmachines for sale in the supermarket. It's more expensive than London because everything is flown in. Spent today with lots of scientists who had really nice colourful graphs. Have to find a family to stay with (I'm in a scientists hut at the moment which has wireless internet!!) and a whaling captain who will let me go out with them. They are waiting for an east wind to make a way through the ice and bring the whales. Apparently you can tell when a passage has started forming because there is a dark line in the sky and they call it sky water. I can't believe I'm here.

Flying from Anchorage to Barrow