June 2, 2011 The Barrow Tour
Barrow is a pretty unique place. It reminds me of a scientific outpost, except that it is a town with stores and businesses and one gas station. There are people walking and kids playing and lots of trucks doing their jobs. I walked around a bit this morning before we began our tour and I saw some neighborhoods that looked different but were really the same as any other. Why are the houses built on legs up off the ground? I stopped to look at some tundra and found that it looks very different from the tundra I saw in Healy. There is really only one kind of plant in this tundra. The grass has taken over leaving very little room for anybody else. Of course I'm sure that the temperature and the sunlight have much to do with that.
We visited the Cultural Center and saw some interesting displays. We learned a lot about the whaling that the town does each year and saw information on the history. We were treated to a show put on by children from the local schools. Most of the kids were around 14 years old. They played traditional instruments and sang songs that were taught to them by their grandparents. It was great. Then we all got to hold on to a blanket that is used in a special ceremony. The blanket is made from Breaded Seal skins and sewn together with seal thread then covered in seal oil. The blanket is very strong. When everyone gathers around and holds on to the rope loops they begin to pull straight out and the person who is sitting in the middle is launched up into the air! Pretty cool.
We also looked at a sealskin boat that is used for whaling. The skins are stretched over a wooden frame and dried. The boat is very sturdy and moves through the water quickly and without sound. This helps the hunters approach a whale without being heard. The people here hunt for Bowhead Whales, and they use as much of the whale as they can for the entire town. In fact if a whale is caught, no one can go out hunting again until the whale has been pulled up onto the ice, cut up and made ready to give to everyone in town. The people share it all. Then I stood inside of a whale skull. This skull was from a whale that was over 45 feet long!
We then drove out to the northern most point of land in the United States. That is Point Barrow. It is a skinny finger of land that sticks out and curves to one side. I stood out on the ice and took in the entire white blanket that seemed to stretch out forever. We tried to find a place to jump in but could not. One of you will have to come up here and do it for me!