Flipping Coins for Climate Change


Using my little laptop case as a cushion to sit on the metal grating outside of the boys’ apartment. My apartment for the time being, as well.

It’s a beautiful day outside, I only just realized. And though there is nowhere to really go and sit as everything is muddy, I have devised this genius spot for the meantime. Maybe I’ll even make a friend or two walking past.

Just got back from a jog to the AC store, because George was using the bathroom and I really had to pee. I borrowed the bathroom key from a nice girl at the front counter, and enjoyed reading all of the graffiti on the bathroom walls.

My mp3 player stopped playing music about ten minutes into my jog, so I headed back. Figuring I would take another jog around nine or ten tonight, and stop by the post office as well.

So now I’m sitting outside, listening to ATVs and looking at the violet, purple, blue, turquoise, navy green and beige quonset and box houses in front of me.

I was not in a very good place on Friday evening, so I didn’t get to write about the wonderful day that I had. I’m going to try and do that now.

Friday.

Muktuk.

The whale that I don’t really want to eat, the culture and lifestyle that I want to integrate with and learn about.

Muktuk is the chunk of whale meat served in traditional Inupiat diet. It’s a cube consisting of the black skin of the whale, and the pink blubber.

My new camera broke today. The cold or the sand, something. I guess that means I’ll just have to write it all.

We begin the day by going to Mack Butler’s house, and finding him not there. So Laura shows us the mound houses on the beach across the street. I ask why these are not preserved, and we’re just able to walk on them and destroy them over time. And she said that it has to do with the corporation, and not wanting to spend money to protect it.

“It’s not my culture, so I don’t have any say in it as an anthropologist. Or at least no one is going to pay me to protect it.”

All the trash in rural Alaska. We walk back over into Mack’s yard, because we are not allowed to sit on the beach too long without a permit. And see a soda machine graveyard in the backyard.

“That’s part of the “stop the pop” campaign from a few years back, Laura explains. There are also halves of pidgeon like birds throughout the yard, something has gone to town. And bones, bones, bones. All over. And old sofas, old tools, old wood. Nothing is thrown away here. Trash is dumped in Barrow, and then the only way to dispose of it is to burn it.

Which goes to answer the question of why the CCA wood from the 80s is still sitting in people’s yards— because the worst thing you can do with this wood is burn it. And they know not to burn it. Or at least most people in town do.

We ring the doorbell, and walk in the house even though Mack is not there.

We are offered coffee by a half asleep thirty something man with a hard to come by smile.

Laura pulls homemade chocolate scones out of her purse to share as we wait– it is Mack’s 40th anniversary of being here.

We are still waiting for Mack an hour later. This is Barrow time.

We eat our scones, drink our coffee, and talk about dentists in Barrow, who are apparently top notch.

There are a lot of dental problems in the village, which play into the diet. According to Laura they don’t fill cavities here, they just remove the whole tooth and replace it with a silver one. There are four years olds running around with shinning mouths.

“What are you writing down?” Syd asks me as I scribble dental notes into my notebook.

“I’m just writing ‘the scene,’” I say truthfully and cryptically. And continue writing throughout conversations for the rest of the day.

The day before we left, this guy in the program named Isaac who is from Hawaii walked up to a group of us, and told us that he had lived in Barrow before. His Dad was a dentist there years ago. I thought this odd at the time, but after talking to Laura I realized the benefits of being a medic in Barrow. They give you $10,000 a year, in addition to your salary, to pay off student loans. It’s an effort to bring doctors and dentists out here.

Still waiting for Mack, we take a walk outside to grab our raingear, as we are told we will be going out to the melt ponds to collect samples today. And we run across a big paw print on the way to the van, and are terrified it’s a polar bear print. Who the hell knows.

Meet this local man named Sam while outside, and he inquires what we are doing here? “I am Inupiat. This is my home. What are you doing here?”

I talk too fast for him to understand, and you can tell he is not used to communicating in English.

Mack arrives around 10:30, and we begin work.

“This is a species that I named last night. I could spend the rest of my career naming species. But I don’t want to do that.” Mack comments during a thorough rundown of everything and anything that has to do with the larva in these petri dishes, and his life’s ambition, inspiration and career.

Mack is also interested in the discarded, free wood left around the city. “I just don’t understand it. This is great wood,” he comments, pulling the nails out of it on his makeshift work desk outside.

Reoccurring theme in my life this month, I can already see.

“We’ve just made a huge discovery,” he says, shuffling us back over to the petri dishes. “Regular pupa molt four times, and then turn into a pupa. But these, these molt five times. As far as I’m aware there is no such literature on a fifth molting phase…

“You know what Gondwana is? This species is from there– the southern hemisphere supercontinent. They made their way up the Andes, the Rockies, and then spread out at sea level in the Arctic. They are like opossums– marsupials are primarily from Australia, but that species made its way to the Americas.

“What I want you to be looking for is the mature ones, in the pupal stage. So their lower abdomen will be swollen.

Mack pokes around in the petri dishes to show us an example, but finds none for awhile. We’re just standing there, twiddling our thumbs.

“We’re looking at the timing of the pupal stage, because it’s going to tell us how the ponds thawing faster is having an impact on the species. And if the bugs are not maturing at the right rate, then the birds who migrate here have nothing to eat, and on down the food chain. What you’re looking at in this dish is representative of the pulse of insects that you’ll see soon.

“Mosquitoes don’t really live here, those big bird sized mosquitoes? They’re blown in from the south, from central Alaska near Fairbanks. The native bugs here, midges, swarm around but do not bite. The native people don’t even have a name for the midges, because they can’t eat the bugs, and the bugs don’t bite them. They are unimportant and there is no reason to explain them in great detail.

“The bugs don’t all start the race the same day, the race to become an adult. The bugs take it at different lengths, and rates. We need to determine the starting points, though.

We are then invited to a lunch of Polish food cooked by Alec’s wife, Ewelina. We had been planning on eating delicious Mexican food for lunch at the college that day, and are torn. Alyssa, Syd and I walk behind the truck when everyone walks away, and we flip a coin. Our new method of decision making. Heads is Polish food, tails is Mexican food. We all flip it together, and it lands on heads. Which we knew was the right decision all along. As a general travel rule you should never turn down the offer of dinner from new acquaintances in a new place.

We thanked the coin’s decision later, as we were safely ensconced in the scientist’s house, eating homemade food and making new connections.

“As a scientist I’d like to say that we’re doing this research to help the movement to halt global warming. But if I’m being realistic, I’d say that we’re just documenting the species that live here, until they become extinct from the temperature change. There is nowhere further north for these species to go. As the Earth warms up, they will die out, and species from the south will move on up and take their place, ad infinitum.

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