Long are the dark arctic nights,
If you’ve come out just to see sights.
Be cautious, I swear,
Of the great polar bear,
And look up to see Northern Lights.
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.
When I tell people in the lower 48 about Barrow, they frequently ask, “Why would anyone want to live there? In this day and age? Are you kidding me?”
I read the Unabomber Manifesto when it appeared in the Washington Post in 1995 . The distillation of his treatise comes down to this: modern society’s problems result from people having their basic needs of food and shelter met without working for them; most people are bored and without psychological fulfillment because they haven’t had to overcome obstacles to avoid death from starvation or exposure.
To my dismay, I agreed with his sentiments till Ted Kaczynski tried to justify killing and bombing other people.
Twenty-first century American ennui doesn’t happen in Barrow because most Natives are subsistence hunters.
One of the reasons that I love Barrow is that the folks here really are happier than most places. If I go to the store, I see smiles on most of the faces; I don’t see that many grins anyplace outside the North Slope except at a comedy club.
I also get to hang out with real hunters all day. Their lives and the lives of their families depend on the success of their hunt. The people here exist because of a combination of modern firearms and the ancient accumulated wisdom of centuries of hunting and fishing in the planet’s most hostile environment.
I talked with a man who shot more than five hundred geese during the whaling season; he told me about getting three with one shot. Another person, who has harpooned seven whales over the course of his life, recounted killing two of those whales in one day. A fisherman I spoke with caught eight hundred smelt on a day when his friend caught three thousand and expounded on how great they are to eat frozen.
Even though I hunt, next to the subsistence hunters here I feel like a tourist with a muzzleloader.
Tonight, the mercury sits at 11 degrees below zero Fahrenheit. Bethany and I walked a kilometer to Brower’s café and ordered egg fu young with hot and sour soup. The prices of restaurant food run high here but the portion size stacks up with the largest; we brought home leftovers, though polar bears have been sighted in that part of Barrow during the last two weeks.
After I dropped Bethany off at the apartment, I took my saxophone to the house of the guitar player who anchored the band when I worked here last summer (see my posts from June and July). We miss our trumpet player and leader, but we still like making the music. Halfway through, Bethany called to tell me to go outside.
We came here with the intention of seeing the Northern Lights. This evening’s Aurora Borealis streaked green across the sky from horizon to horizon.