Saturday, September 18, 2010

Bonfires, Beaches, and Border Collies

First, I have a confession. After some research, meaning I started closely listening to my friends who are Iñupiaq speakers, I figured out that quaq is not what I was told it was. (Which causes me to wonder if I was being punked, except Ashton Kutcher is nowhere nearby). It was during a conversation that someone switched from English to Iñupiaq. She was talking about her ice cellar (the gist of the conversation was joking about the person she was talking to going into her ice cellar to steal some maktak and some quaq). I don't even know how I understood this exchange in Iñupiaq (I do know it happens alot during new language acquisition), but the bottom line is that quaq is frozen whale meat. Obviously, you won't see a leg on frozen whale meat as we clearly see in this picture, which you'll recognize from the previous entry when I wrote about quaq. Well, now you have another Iñupiaq word to add to your growing vocabulary...tuttu. Tuttu = caribou. Now, it's making some sense!

I'm beginning to realize that Barrow is a well-kept secret. Before I moved here,  I thought Barrow = barren. Okay, there is that aspect, but there is also this beauty that is breathtaking.

We've been having unusually warm weather. Now, don't laugh when I say warm and 45°F in the same sentence. For Barrow, that's shirtsleeve weather. The day starts out a bit cloudy, or foggy and then we get the evening.

About 9:00 p.m. last night, we looked out the window and couldn't help but throw on our shoes and run across the street. We were not alone on the beach. You see, the Barrow equation is:  good weather + sunset + pallettes = Bonfire. Keep in mind, folks are still unpacking barge orders and pallettes abound. They wind up on the beach and locals take advantage of them to enjoy these "Indian Summer" evenings.

Oh yeah, folks just drive right onto the beach. In fact, I don't even notice tracks on the beach anymore; it's just part of the scenery, but you can see in all of our pictures, the beach is just another roadway. It's one of the things I really love about Barrow. There are far fewer bureaucratic restrictions on life. For instance, there truly are no signs that say, "No dogs", or "No Motorized Vehicles Allowed". So we run the dogs and dodge the 4-wheelers and the occasional pickup truck. It's all about sharing the space.

We're enjoying this bonus weather. The cold is not far off. Not just any cold, bitter cold with wind mixed in. So we are basking on our beach thinking we're the luckiest people in the world because the ocean is outside our front door.

And when the wind kicks up to 40 mph, and it's snowing sideways, and I'm wearing my facemask, scarf, gloves, 4 layers of shirts and 3 layers of pants, I'll look back on this day and be able to smile (until my teeth start to chatter).

Thursday, September 2, 2010

It's In the Bag

I've spent the past two years going to two school board meetings a month. If they'd ever asked for my opinion, I could have told them that it was one too many meetings a month. Now that I'm back in Alaska, where they do it the right way, there is only one meeting a month...with a twist. Because of our location, we go to different villages throughout the year for the meetings. Today's meeting was in Wainwright, which is a short hop from Barrow on a small plane. There's no frisking by TSA for these flights and certainly no flight attendants. And make sure you are mechanically inclined or you never will get that seat belt fastened; it's every woman for herself! Of course there is the handy briefing card to help you figure it out...
I continue to be amazed by my fortune. Who gets to have these experiences? See these sights? It is just beautiful and tickles my funny bone all at the same time. I'll get to the funny bone tickling in a minute.

First, you must know that while we are at the school, we are treated to lunch, along with the kids, by a fabulous kitchen staff. But wait, there's more! We also get to partake in the community dinner, held in honor of the visit by the school board. Much like the community potluck in Barrow last month, this dinner is well-attended; a chance to mingle with community members and enjoy their company. During this part of the evening, I was treated to a fabulous Iñupiaq language lesson. My tutor attempted to teach me three words (which is two too many in my infancy with these new sounds). I did get one, though...quaq. You'll need to cogitate on quaq while I finish the story.

After dinner, we headed back to the airport. Are you picturing a runway with a building in which you wait for the plane? What were you thinking? Nope, we just drive onto the tarmac and watch the plane arrive. A special treat, on this plane...groceries for the store. I just had to memorialize the delivery truck. Okay, you may be laughing at this, but think about it...what better vehicle than this to make this trip now and in the coming -50˚F weather?

Another benefit of the trip...many of the folks with me who have relatives in Wainwright have had a brief chance to visit with their family. Turns out this is prime hunting season and we are taking some of the spoils of the hunt with us on the plane back to Barrow. It's a bag of quaq! If you look closely, you can see the foot of the quaq peeking out of the opening in the black bag. This gives you a whole new visual of the phrase, "I just bagged a quaq", doesn't it? Now you really are wondering what quaq is, aren't you?