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12 July, 2002

July 12, 2002

Is this the first day of Week 6 already? Actually, just as I sat down here to think about what to write, that thought came into my mind. Five weeks truly within the arctic tundra ecosystem - learning, exploring, and most of all, enjoying. At times, I think things are slowing down, then when I look at it as me having only a couple more weeks out here, at least I get in a hurry again. I begin walking faster, or smelling more deeply, or pivoting my head more rapidly to see everything, afraid I may not get to see it again.

So, you may ask, what have I learned with all this time as an arctic field biologist? Let's begin with the little things. First, I feel I am now quite capable, and efficient at taking a bath with just .5 gallons of warm water in a tub. With just a little forethought, desire to wipe away 4-6 days of grime, and the mind set that goose bumps while bathing means a more refreshing experience, then there are really no problems. The second skill has taken a little more practice and some improved balance . Before proceeding here, if you are one offended by discussion of bodily functions, please skip forward to the next paragraph. Now, for the braver of heart, my second skill is the ability to squat (femininely) to relieve oneself without the use of any hands for balancing purposes. Now, you may not think this is much, but just try this out while balancing on 2 grassy tussocks wobbling under your feet, mosquitoes hungry for new blood, and not a single bush or hill to hide behind for privacy! This will be a skill that could always provide an advantage in life!

Not only have I developed new skills, but I have also acquired new tastes. I've mentioned before that I have actually enjoyed eating things like steamed cabbage, arctichoke hearts, caribou heart, pepperoni flavored spaghetti. But those are really on the less adventurous side. I have drank and enjoyed 'cowboy coffee' - coffee made by pouring the fresh grounds into boiling water, let the mixture boil for taste, drizzling a little cold water over the top to help the grounds settle to the bottom, then drinking! Yes, I do miss the thought drinking a cup of coffee without sifting the grounds through my teeth, but in the right situations, I don't think I've had a better cup than 'cowboy coffee'.

Another newly acquired favorite is mosquito seasoning. Remember me mentioning that these mosquitoes here, at times, seem to see something they want then zip straight at it - almost like a suicide mission. Well, sometimes, they set their hearts on things like warming chowder, boiling noodles, steaming rice, etc. As their plopping into the food is almost constant, it is futile to remove them from the food. It is much more energy efficient to just stir and eat really not a bad way to add a little protein to the diet. I have not decided, yet, if I prefer the larvae stage we drink in our water, or the adult stage we mix in our food. They are really both such different flavorings!

My other taste bud stimulator has to do with the 'seldom bathing' problem. As I spend every day (and night) outside, I do tend to acquire just a little dirt, mud and grime. Fingernails are no exception for dirty body parts. So, when one eats things like caribou meat or popcorn, food parts get stuck in the teeth. With no toothpicks, fingernails are a natural second. Or sometimes, you eat something that is a little messy - like a chicken fajita with a little bit greasy onions and peppers. Well, when finish, a little of the food is, of course, on your fingers. With napkins being too much of a luxury, again, the natural thing is to lick your fingers when finished. In both cases mentioned, I am always amazed how that last taste food tends to differ from all the previous bites . Any ideas why??

I'm sure at this point, you are thinking I am the luckiest person in the world. Having the opportunity to learn such important skills and acquire such and ritzy, or exquisite taste for fine dining, but there have been some minor discomforts along the way. For example, I am really at the point of wishing I had a real, flushing toilet. Although a bucket is OK, the idea of walking up to a toilet bowl that has nothing but water in it, actually sitting on a toilet seat (clean would be preferable), and then flushing when finished - now that would be so wonderful!

The other discomfort is almost past at this point and this is a real one that I have avoided mentioning. Just after the first week here, my hands broke out in some sort of rash. I am still not sure if it was reaction to a pair of gloves I was wearing or something else, but I developed some large swellings or welts over the backside of most of my fingers. (gingerly described as Frankenstein hands by Rebecca) For about a week, I couldn't stand them getting warm at all, as they would swell up, burn and itch. I would try to sleep with my hands outside the sleeping bag at night or walk around without mittens during as much of the day as possible. After about another week, the swelling seemed to decrease, but then they began to blister. Finally, the blisters either popped or dried up, so now the backs of my fingers just have dry, peeling skin or pinkish new skin. I believe they are about healed, but will probably have a few scar marks left over as evidence of my summer experience. It just shows that being in this area doesn't always allow you to quickly and effectively treat all problems.

Anyway, tonight, with basically healed hands, newly acquired talents and tastes, I thought it was time to try and add to the repertoire - I made homemade pizza on a Coleman stove! Made the crust with flour, baking powder, salt and water, fried on low, flipped, covered with sauted pepperoni sticks, onions and bell peppers, spaghetti sauce and cheese. Wow, was it great tasting pizza! I'm debating whether I've ever made a better one using a bread maker, real pepperoni, grated cheese and an electric oven! I do believe my learning is still taking place .. two more weeks, who knows what more I will gain.


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