The International Date Line
So close to the Nome marine mine
That from my cafeteria seat
When lunch I did eat
I saw the sun start to rise and then shine.
Synopsis: I’m a Family Practitioner from Sioux City, Iowa. In 2010 I danced back from the brink of burnout, and honoring a 1 year non-compete clause, travelled and worked in out-of-the-way places in Alaska, Nebraska, Iowa, and New Zealand. After three years working with a Community Health Center, I am back having adventures in temporary positions until they have an Electronic Medical Record System (EMR) I can get along with. Right now I’m in Nome, Alaska.
On the weekend I walked south towards the Bering sea, aiming at the movies. With temps hovering in the teens, I wore my fleece jacket, light by subarctic standards but just fine as long as I kept moving. When I got to Front Street, Nome’s main drag and business hub, and turned towards the theater, I viewed with alarm two ambulances with flashing lights, a couple of fire trucks and a crowd. I quickened my pace, passed the theater/Subway shop, and just as I drew up to the first ambulance one of the EMTs got out. I introduced myself and asked if there were a problem I could help with. “Problem?” he asked, “Yeah. It’s a parade for the governor, but I don’t think you can help with it.” Small town parades offer unique entertainment but I hadn’t worn my Arctic grade parka, and as soon as I stopped walking, the cold started to creep into my skin. Faced with the choice of parade or Night At The Museum, I picked the cinema, though if the temp had been 20 degrees warmer I would have had a tougher decision.
Alaska occupies a very large area, and the distance from the Panhandle to Attu comes very close to that from Miami to Santa Monica. Towards the poles the time zones crowd together. Nonetheless the Procrustean effort to make the state have one time zone (with the exception of the tail end of the Aleutians) brings some peculiarities to the diurnal rhythm of the town. Nome sits less than 150 miles from the International Date Line but keeps the same time zone as Juneau. So when I arrived sunset came close to 4:00PM but the sun rose about 1:00PM. With the progression away from the Winter Solstice, sunset now comes at a decent hour, today after 5:00 PM. Nonetheless while my lunch started shortly before noon I could enjoy the dawn while I ascended the stairs to the cafeteria.
Gold dominates Nome’s non-governmental economy, but the 17 outlying villages represent the United States’ only remaining subsistence hunter-gatherers. Four languges dominate: English, Inupiaq, Yupik, and Siberian Yupik. I talked with a schizophrenic who functions well in village society as an accomplished hunter and fisher. Another person visits Russia for hunting; he knows the sound of Russian helicopters. He says he just has to put in the appearance of retreating homewards when the helicopter comes, but he can turn around after the aircraft passes out of sight.
The locals hunt whales: beluga, humpback, grey, and bowhead. They also hunt caribou, moose, muskox, and 4 species of seals. When I ask about fish I hear about salmon, trout, whitefish, herring, and grayling. We could go after whale now, I hear some people say, with so much open water and so little ice, but it’s too cold and we plan to wait for spring.