Sunday, October 7, 2007

Hooper Bay, Part III: Yes, I tried eating seal (and moose, too...!)

From Brush with Death:

My sophomore year in college I had briefly flirted with abandoning art for anthropology when the professor of a required course explained the importance of eating local cuisine. One of my special talents was the ability to eat just about anything, and in truly astonishing quantities, so I figured I was a natural for fieldwork. Fried grasshoppers and whale blubber? No problem. The secret was in the seasoning. The flirtation came to an abrupt halt with the unit on genealogical charts: patrilineal, matrilineal, affinal, fictive…. I don’t do charts (p.88).

It's true what they say about much of writing being autobiographical. I actually do have a Masters degree in anthropology (never quite finished that darned PhD...) and I always loved doing my fieldwork among different ethnic groups. I have eaten some wonderful things...and managed to nibble on some dubious items, as well. Here's a picture of me putting those skills to work again, trying seal in Hooper Bay:
Esther and I, eating seal

The Yup'ik people of Hooper Bay continue to practice a subsistence way of life, which includes hunting and gathering the great majority of their food. Seal, Beluga whale, all kinds of fish, berries, and greens are gathered during their appropriate seasons, and then are dried or frozen and eaten all year long.

Above: sunset over the dunes on the beach

Above: The bumpy road to the airport

Before I knew it, it was time to go home. Scott, the vice-principal at Hooper Bay School, gave me a ride to the airport, which is a fancy name for a single landing strip. For a town of 1200 people, Hooper Bay has a lot of flights: at least two in the morning, and two in the evening. There are no roads across the tundra, so all goods and people have to come by plane or boat...and the boats are limited to the summertime.
Below: my ride back to Bethel

As we flew low over the vast tundra of the Yukon Delta Wildlife Sanctuary, I reflected upon my visit. I had spoken with three or four classes a day, learned a few words of Yup'ik, strolled through the village, chatted with townsfolk in the native store, gone out berry-picking on the tundra, raced along the beach on the Honda 4-wheeler, feasted on native delicacies, made a lot of new friends, heard ghost stories, fishing stories, and hunting stories...and now it was time to return to my other life.

Among so many other things, I have to get back to writing Book 4 in the Art Lovers' Mystery Series, tentatively entitled Arsenic and Old Paint. I wonder whether Annie will wind up in a native Alaskan village somehow...?

1 comment:

Cate said...

Thanks for such a fab representation of our beautiful home -- thanks for being such an ambassador in both directions, of the western world for our students, and for the Yup'ik world for everyone else. Thanks and take care.