20 July, 2001
Today was one of those days packed with things to do from 9 am to 11 this evening. We started retaking growth measurements in Glen's plots. Three weeks ago we took the initial measurements and marked the individual plants and grasses. Today, we relocated the grasses and vascular plants and measured them a second time to get growth data. With 4 people doing this we thought it would be completed faster than the first go-round but the plots have filled in and grown so much that locating the originals took more time than we first thought. They will continue this till finished which might be in 2 or 3 days.
This morning, while we were on our stomachs counting, we battled mosquitoes and this afternoon the breeze kicked up and got rid of the pesty insects only to bring us rain clouds from inland, we ended up soaked. The upside was the storm left a rainbow behind so it was worth it. This is the nice thing about working in the field; you never know what will happen during the day!
The plots were a surprise to "weed" through. The vegetation had grown thicker in the heated plots and the plots with more water but the real surprise to me was how fast everything has grown. With a short growing season the grasses and vascular plants take off quickly, develop inflorescence maturing in 3 to 5 weeks. The constant sunlight and comparatively warm temperatures, along with the moisture from the melted snow, all add to speeding up the growth rates in the arctic.
After counting and measuring plants all day 4 of us, Joe, Michelle, Steve and myself went out on the boat of a local Inupiat hunter Walter. We all hopped into the boat at about 6 pm with Walter, a friend of his and Walter's two younger children. They are hunting seal or walrus at this time of year so to find them you have to go to where the ice is, about 15 to 20 miles out. With a 250 motor it got us where we wanted to be fairly quickly. We reached the ice and the temperature dropped. The ice was pretty broken up since we went south where the walrus have been spotted.
The local people hunt with guns and harpoons. They are constantly on the lookout for seals or walrus popping their head above water or laying on the ice flows. They spotted a walrus and we snapped pictures frantically. Walter had his gun ready but the walrus dove and managed to get away. The Inupiats will use the tusks for carving and the meat for eating. Walter has caught a number of walrus this summer. When that occurs and the hunters' families cannot store or use the meat they will give it to the elders of the village as a sign of respect. The culture stresses sharing and taking care of everyone and in this way keeps the community ties strong.
On the return Walter spotted a bearded seal, much prized for its meat and especially its skin. This is used to cover the sealskin boats, umiaks, which are used in the traditional spring whale hunt. The whaling crews have to recover the wooden frame every one to two years depending on the condition they are left in after the hunt. It takes approximately 8 skins to cover an umiak, which is sewn together by the women in the village. Sewing is important and requires much skill in that all seems have to be waterproof.
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