Arrival back in Barrow: spilled milk in the Arctic night


Down the dark runway we rolled

Through the night, the snow, and the cold

    You know I might sigh

    Over spilled milk, but not cry.

I didn’t come here for the gold.

Synopsis:  I’m a family practitioner from Sioux City, Iowa, in a career change to avoid burnout.  While my one year  non compete clause ticks out, I’m having adventures, working in a lot of places, and visiting family and friends.  Currently I’ve returned to Barrow, Alaska, where I had my first locum tenens assignment this summer.

We left Anchorage at sunset.  We walked out onto the tarmac, entering the plane near the tail.  We peered around the end of the aircraft and saw the sun going down.  We will not be able to see the sun again for at least a week.  Gentle cold filled the clear air.

In the plane, a thick bulkhead with a locked door separated our area from the front of the plane, and Bethany and I thought that first class passengers took their privileges seriously.  As we hadn’t heard them called, and as none entered the plane at the front, we realized that the plane carried none.  Cargo occupied the fore part of the jet. 

Most of Alaska is “the bush,” meaning that goods and people come and go by water or air.  In state, Alaska Airlines allows three pieces of checked baggage at no extra cost.  In Barrow’s airport, you can see the flow of goods in the duct taped Rubbermaid bins.  Big screen flat-panel TV’s come in with every flight, though the baggage handlers in Barrow use as much force as baggage handlers everywhere.

Yet, on the plane we sat next to a young man who had driven a truck last May from Anchorage to Prudhoe Bay up the Dalton “highway”, then from Prudhoe Bay to Nuiqsit via the Ice Road.  He’d driven from there to Barrow along the shore, crossing bays on the ice.  Thus, a trickle of vehicles comes to the North Slope by road, and, at great risk, arrives in Barrow. 

The plane landed, hard, in the dark and snow, on the only pavement in Barrow; Bethany and I pulled on our heavy parkas before we deplaned.  Barrow’s airport has no jetway; we crunched across packed snow and ice to the terminal.  Between Barrow and Anchorage the cold had hardened to 15 degrees below zero, small snowflakes fell. 

The community pitches in for baggage handling at the airport.  Natives, who prefer the term Inuit to Eskimo, comprise more than half the population of Barrow.    

A container of milk ruptured in the baggage during the flight and spilled over the baggage infrastructure; I grabbed paper towels from the restroom, mopped as best I could, and tried to direct the luggage away from the drying residue.

I noted less airport chaos on my arrival this time than on my first trip; only half the plane had people. 

Outside, the full moon lit the snow-covered scene.  Despite the dangerous cold that greeted us, a few young men in their late teens wore baggy shorts and flip-flops.

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