It's February 5 and there is a cold spell in Puget Sound. Temperatures have dropped below zero, a meteorological phenomenon that does not happen very often in the temperate Pacific Northwest Coast. Today it's a bit harder to keep the Rock House warm. I have a small oil electric radiator on but right now it's struggling to cope with the lower temperature. Instead to switch on the basement electric heater, which uses a lot of electricity, I wear extra layers. As I type the chill in my hands brings back memories of my working wintry trips to the Northern Slope, Alaska.
During my first stay in 2010 I created a series of drawings that capture what I saw on the streets, my reactions to the Arctic spellbinding environment and stories that I would hear from the villagers while interviewing them to compile socioeconomic surveys.
The dog that chocked to death by eating a chicken bone.
Chick Bone, mixed media drawing on brown paper, 7 x 10 inches (18 x 25 cm), 2010
One day a hunter saw a polar bear feeding on a seal.
Polar Bear and Seal, mixed media drawing on brown paper, 7 x 10 inches (18 x 25 cm), 2010
There is no need for a large freezer to preserve a seal for future butchering during the Arctic winter. Seal meat is roasted and the bearded seal skins are sewed together and stretched on a wooden frame to make the traditional umiak, a small boat used to hunt bowhead whales.
Frozen Seal and Dog, mixed media drawing on brown paper, 10 x 7 inches (25 x 18 cm), 2010
Polar Bears do wander in villages when they are hungry and look for food. Unfortunately there have been incidents where polar bears stalked and killed local residents.
Polar Bear Man, mixed media drawing on brown paper, 10 x 7 inches (25 x 18 cm), 2010
At home I am used to go hiking without thinking about it. When I was working in the coastal villages of the North Slope I could not simply take off and walk outside the villages' boundaries into the sea ice or tundra as I pleased because of the danger of encountering a polar bear without the protection of a local or the possession of a fire arm. So I ended up walking along the villages' perimeters keeping my eyes alert and making sure that I was not wandering off too far from houses. I couldn't help feeling "trapped", though.
Boundaries, mixed media drawing on brown paper, 10 x 7 inches (25 x 18 cm), 2010
© E. Betty Bastai