We’re turning our back on the light
After eight weeks of delight
In a wide bodied plane
To the land of the rain,
Flying south with the night
After supper last night, exiting Brower’s café, we ran into the Aarigaa 4×4 Tours driver, and, on the strength of a cell phone number, contracted to have him pick us up at noon for a tour of the peninsula north of Barrow.
Bethany packed the night before. I spent the morning packing.
I’m not used to spending that much time prepping for a journey, but this has been an eight-week sojourn, and there were loose ends to tie. I returned pens and notepads to the clinic, sent a book back to its owner, and attended a very nice brunch hosted by one of the other doctors.
A lot of medical and nursing staff departed the Barrow hospital this weekend. One of the other docs observed that two kinds of people work here, the happy and the unhappy, and each will try to change the other’s perception.
I picked up a grilled turkey sandwich from the cafeteria and added basil, planted a week after I arrived, and plucked fresh from the flower pot on the window sill. The sandwich was astounding.
The driver was ten minutes early, and Bethany and I were the only ones on the tour. The day was tooth achingly bright, the air brilliantly clear, the wind reasonable.
We took the dirt road north out of town, past the DEW line and NARL and Old Barrow, aka the Shooting Station. The folk here dry a lot of meat and fish at Old Barrow because a dearth of traffic means cleaner air.
At the end of the road of the road we continued on gravel.
The arctic currents have been eroding the peninsula for centuries with an accelerating pace. Heavy storms in the fall throw gravel onto what was once tundra, making difficult driving. Up the east, lagoon side, we passed a lone figure, rod and reel in hand beside a four-wheeler, at the water’s edge. We came to the end of the land. Fresh water, green against the deep blue of the Beaufort Sea, poured from the lagoon. A flock of gulls two hundred yards away regarded us from a barrier island. We watched flights of king and common eider ducks.
We swung north to Point Barrow along the north, ocean side of the peninsula.
The sea erosion has exposed Inuit burial sites; the archaeologists excavated the graves, and the Natives reburied the bodies properly in cemeteries in town. Seventy years ago the point was five miles further north; the sea reclaims its own here at the rate of twelve meters a year.
We got out of the van and I walked to the water to dunk my fingers and taste the sea. I picked up a heart-shaped rock and a few others; I will bring them south to put on gravestones.
On the west side of the point we startled a flock of gulls fighting over the carcass of a king eider duck.
We passed a mountain of whale bones left from last fall’s whaling season to keep the polar bears out of Barrow proper. I exited the van to video the gulls; the guide warned me not to get too close because the whale fat impregnated mud would give make my boots a stink that would last years. The warm summer sun brought out the aroma, unpleasant but not nearly as bad as the hog plant at home.
We stopped in Old Barrow and saw the remains of a sod house. Whale bones held up pieces of tundra as late as the 20’s; the houses have since collapsed into mounds hospitable to snowy owl nesting.
I finished packing, we hauled our bags downstairs and called a cab. We waited in the parking lot and I basked in the sun, the air temperature in the mid-fifties, reveling in the peace of the unhurried moment.
We ran into a two-nurse, six-kid, one-nanny family at the airport, also checking bags early. Bethany and I helped carry their totes, then we walked back to the apartment.
I kept using the word lush to describe the feeling.
A nap at the apartment, dinner in the cafeteria, and another quick cab ride to the airport. I didn’t mind the plane’s hour tardiness. Bethany and I entertained the six kids by teaching them yoyo tricks and sign language. I chatted with the high school principle and her PE teacher husband.
We came into Fairbanks at dusk, street and car lights winking on along the roads. Small float planes line the sides of the airport’s landing lake.
And now I am flying south to the night, a good clear view of the full moon between Fairbanks and Anchorage. I haven’t seen darkness for eight weeks, it is as much a comfort to the eyes as green grass is in the spring.
Tags: 4x4, Aarigaa tours, Beaufort Sea, DEW line, drying meat, eider ducks, erosion, Fairbanks, float plane, full moon, Inuit burial sites, NARL, Old Barrow, packing up, polar bears, Shooting Station, sod houses