We drove between sea and lagoon
Where the Eskimos use the harpoon
There’s nothing new
North of the line that is DEW
Where the sun shines from midnight to noon.
Bethany and I and another couple took an ASNA (Arctic Slope Native Association) vehicle north of town Monday evening. Vigorous winds and temps in the thirties kept us mostly in the truck with the heater full blast.
Barrow sits on a peninsula, south of a large lagoon which opens to the east. Natives have been coming here to hunt for thousands of years. The road north from Barrow forks at the near end of the lagoon; we chose the north branch over the east.
The cold dry climate preserves the signs of human activity for millennia.
The DEW (Distant Early Warning) Line that I read about fifty years ago in My Weekly Reader, the radar installations to warn the continental US of incoming Russian nuclear missiles, maintains a facility outside of Barrow to this day. The staff has been cut, and I hope the electronics have been modernized.
The Naval Arctic Research Lab, or NARL, has been a fixture in Barrow since the Cold War; one of my friends from Yale worked here in the two years he took off. Much of the site has been taken over by Ilisaqvik, the local college.
Further on, the grassless high school football field stretches its hundred yards plus end zones here on the permafrost.
In the middle of utter desolation, the town’s hardware store faces the Arctic Ocean ten miles north of Barrow’s center.
The berm on the ocean side of the road keeps the waves off during the violent autumn storms, and hides polar bear activity from humans.
Past the DEW line and NARL is Old Barrow, abandoned in the ‘40’s as a year-round settlement and now a summer campground in a ghost town.
We talked to a non-Native fisherman with a twenty-foot gill net and a cooler full of really beautiful fish which I couldn’t identify. The net is suspended from floats with a blaze orange buoy at one end and a bar driven into the permafrost at the other. Fish swim in and can’t swim out.
We went to the end of the road. There is a large sign frame with no sign which I took for a poetic statement in its own right. We walked around, making comments about the shotgun shell husks and the two empty boat trailers. There were two small craft out on the water, possibly 25 miles from shore, fishing or sealing or walrus hunting.
On the way back a large flight of small endangered eider ducks flew across the road.