No High Fives

First jog in Alaska. First jog in the Arctic.

I don’t really feel like I am in a place until I go for a run.

And I didn’t think I was going to be able to run out here- but then we had our neighbor Dave over for tea a few hours ago. In his 20s and from Seattle, he has lived in Barrow for the past three years. Prior to that he lived to Norway. He’s got a job with the city, and seems quite at home.

I asked him how dangerous it was to run outside- should I be concerned about polar bears? And he laughed at me and said, no of course not.

He told me the thing I really needed to watch out for was dogs. He said he had to kick off two dogs on the run he just got back from.


Sitting on my bed after having tea, I had the sudden urge to move my legs. I’ve been sitting around in this apartment everyday after work for half a week now, and need to feel like I can get out. Need to feel free, even if it means facing wild dogs.

I put on my running shoes, and told my roommates to call me if I wasn’t back in an hour.

And then I grabbed a key, and took off into the tundra neighborhood alone.

And it was just as great and terrifying as you would imagine it.

The first half of the jog, I’m looking under buildings for polar bears (houses on stilts– great place for large creatures to hide, right?). And then mid jog, I run past the airport. And all of these kids on ATVs drive past me- waving. And I wave back. And then I realize they are not waving– they are holding their hands out for high fives. I put my hand out for a second, and then realize they are going at upwards of 45 miles per hour. I don’t know what happens when you high five someone going that fast. But I don’t want to find out.

Absolutely terrifying.

I pulled my hand back, and have since decided I will never give anyone a high five in Alaska.

The neighborhood, though. The second half of my jog was so real. I stopped worrying about the bears, and noticed the people and the lives around me. The houses so uniquely shaped and styled, so torn apart and broken down. The characteristic brightly colored Arctic style that is similar in Greenland and Iceland. Colorful houses torn to shreds, and still being fully lived in. The composition of whole lives spread out around the houses- on the frozen ground. Stretched furs and various large bones can be seen outside of most houses. The dogs. So many wild looking dogs chained to houses– bounding at you to the length of their chains.

There is a lot of dog waste all over the frozen ground in yards. People rake their yards to clean up the waste and other litter. Because nothing decomposes out here— it’s an archaeologist’s dream, because anything left out here remains exactly the same as how you left it, years later. Provided the wind doesn’t destroy it.

Composting is not an option in the Arctic.

I waved at a few people. I’m not sure if it’s better to be super friendly, or to take things slow and easy, first learning the appropriate social approach used here.

I mean, I definitely stick out.

Never have I ever really been the minority. And I am so thankful to get to experience what that feels like out here. It’s eye opening.

I don’t understand the money dynamic out here at all, yet. There is so much oil money out here, and the Inupiat people receive a fairly decent piece of this through their corporation, I’m told. The houses and ways of life look so battered and impoverished from the outside looking in, though. Perhaps this is part of the strong traditional presence, or different priorities than traditional American culture in the lower 48.

There is no suburbia in Barrow. There is no chain store. There is no fashion police. It is apart from anything I have ever experienced before. And it is absolutely breathtakingly freeing. And unknown.

People living a completely different way of life than the picture perfect America/Europe I’ve grown up in and experienced. This is rough country. And these are people who are used to this country.

Carinne just wrote a fucking spoken word poem in the past ten minutes, sitting by the window.

Walked over, pulled a chair up and performed it for me at one in the morning in our living room. We’re getting it.


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