The grey whales put on a show,
While in our faces the cold wind did blow
Later, when dry
We had ice cream and pie,
And toured the Barrow museum of Joe.
I spent most of Sunday morning sleeping, having had a hard night on call yesterday. After lunch Bethany and I went for a walk on the beach.
The sea ice had retreated towards the north, a fine white line at the horizon. The wind picked up and I was glad for my layers of polypropylene.
We walked down the street past Pepe’s and the bank and the police station, towards the Japanese restaurant, then found an easy slope to walk down to the beach.
The sand here is coarse and dark. The gentle waves belie the monstrous breakers that rush up out of the sea in the fall.
On our left we could see where the earth has been eroded by the autumn waves.
As we walked I looked out over the ocean and to my surprise saw the spout of a whale, followed by the black sheen of its back
I could have said “Thar she blows!” but I didn’t. At a loss for words I sputtered a couple of times before I managed to say, “Whale! There’s a whale! Look, over there!”
Bethany’s head snapped up and fifteen seconds later, the white spout followed the black of the whale’s back. She saw it, too. While we watched we saw the phenomenon repeat every fifteen to twenty seconds for minutes. I brought out my camera, set for motion picture. I used the most telephoto possible, and the whales breached while the shutter was open, till the camera announced that the card was full.
Then we started walking again, no longer stunned by the wonder.
Probably grey whales, we decided and probably travelling in a pod.
We reached a place on the beach dominated by heavy equipment, and we turned onto the road to walk back into town. We had been at a place called The Gravel Pit. On the road up we saw the pieces of driftwood, including a whole spruce trunk.
The architecture of many cities appeals more than that of Barrow. A chain link fence separates the ruins of centuries old houses, where whale ribs and driftwood supported permafrost sod, from the end of the runway where the jets come and go. The rest of the town is dramatically weather-beaten.
The number of burned-out shells of houses appalled us. But the elation of having walked into a successful whale watch stayed with us.
After supper we walked down to Pepe’s for dessert. At ten we went with Joe to his museum.
Joe, the son of Fran who owns Pepe’s, has lived in Barrow for 34 years. He made a good living delivering water for most of that time. Now that the majority of houses have indoor plumbing, he works at the restaurant during the day and opens his museum, by appointment, after 10:00 PM.
He has whole body mounts of a grizzly bear, a polar bear, a mountain goat, a wolverine, two wolves, and a musk ox. He combs the beach, and when the water is calm he goes out in his kayak. He keeps all the relics he finds, from old pop cans to firearms.
I recognized the pop cans from the fifties. I was able to identify the rusted hulks of three Winchester rifles, a Mossberg shotgun, and the remains of a flintlock.
When we got back I pulled the video images from the camera onto the computer. I couldn’t see the whales breaching.