An Artic Sunday Brunch


Avoiding the hospital’s lunch,

We went out in the cold to a brunch

     At the college we ate,

    A pre-Valentine’s date

And the nuts had a wonderful crunch.

Synopsis:  I’m a family practitioner from Sioux City, Iowa.  Avoiding burnout, I’m taking a sabbatical while my one-year non-compete clause winds down, having adventures, visiting family and friends, and working in out-of-the-way places.  Currently I’m on assignment at the hospital in Barrow, Alaska, the northernmost point in the United States.

Bethany and I went to the college for brunch this morning.

We suited up for Arctic temperatures, and went out into the parking lot.  We found the ASNA SUV unplugged. 

Few garages exist in Barrow, but electric outlets define parking places here.  From November to May, vehicles without electric heaters don’t function unless left to idle 24/7.  Bethany searched for an extension cord until the vehicle started, on the first try.

I haven’t driven since I left Sioux City a month ago, and the sensations came weirdly familiar.  Even in the hospital parking lot, the wind had drifted snow, and I left the four-wheel drive on. 

With no pavement in Barrow, the roads have acquired a patina of scored ice, making for a noisy drive with good traction.  We followed the road north, with the Arctic Ocean (technically, the Chukchi Sea) on our port side.  We left the houses of Barrow behind at Cake Eater Road, where furthest outpost of the DEW Line sits. 

Wind drifted snow across the road, we ploughed through drifts over and over till we got to the college.

Ilisagvik (Inuipiat for a place to learn) Community College occupies the site previously owned by the Naval Arctic Research Lab (NARL).  Research facilities continue under Barrow Arctic Science Consortium (BASC), but most of the curriculum concentrates on usual junior college subjects.

Fifty-year-old Quonset huts dominate the campus.  The main building, newer wood construction, rests on pilings above the permafrost.  We parked by an electric outlet with a heavy-duty extension cord and plugged in the heater.

Inside, smells of breakfast filled the cafeteria.  At the salad bar I loaded up on marinated artichoke hearts and blue cheese dressing; I got scrambled eggs, corned beef hash, and potatoes from the hot line, fruit, and a chocolate-walnut brownie. 

We sat in the corner and ate leisurely while the wind outside freshened, the temperature dropped, and the snow drifted.

In the time since I made my career decision I’ve gotten better and better at tasting my food and not bolting it.

Afterwards we walked down the hallways.  I looked at pictures of whale kills from the ’30’s. 

I skimmed the posters detailing the research done in Barrow through BASC.  Plankton densities attract whales to the area.  Erosion is sweeping the Barrow Peninsula away by two to ten meters per year.  Peat permeates much of the soil, which is churned yearly by frost.  Barrow has an Urban Heat Island four degrees Celsius warmer than the surrounding non-urban environment.

We stepped back into the cold under cloudier skies and stronger winds.  I started the car while Bethany disconnected the plug.

The drifts we had ploughed through showed no sign of our passing, reaching across the road in places.

We drove through Browerville on the way back, looking for two restaurants we had searched for on foot, and realized that we’d walked right past them; their signs had been covered with snow.

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