Sloped

Adventure and Life in the Arctic


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I Want My Son to Fail

My son graduated today. He’s the ripe old age of four. There was a ceremony, complete with all the pomp and circumstance of a high school or college graduation.  Including but not limited to individually handed out diplomas, gifts to the graduates, dressed up attire, the whole nine yards, for a K4 (preschool) class. On the diploma, it states: “Child X Has Completed the K4 Course of Study at Y Elementary School and is therefore entitled to this K4 Diploma.”

Umm, excuse me here, but since when is preschool a course of study? I didn’t even get a pat on the back when I finally finished a 3 year Chemistry Program, and I can tell you right now, THAT was a course of study.

Of course, as every parent would do, I indulged in the event, making sure my son went in his best dress, fresh hair-cut, scrubbed fingernails. We rehearsed his part of the graduation program the night before, he even expressed his nervousness, because “This is a big deal Mommy, I’m graduating.”

Graduating?! It takes twelve long years to graduate high school (which I passed on and opted for the GED instead) but I completed eleven years. Then it took another four long years to earn the  next degree and my four year old gets a diploma?!

I am in no way downplaying my son’s excitement about his school program, his eagerness to show myself and his father what he has learned, I love that my son enjoys school. I love even more that the school system on the North Slope starts kids in school at 3 years old, the preschool program being K3 and K4. It’s wonderful that kids this young get exposed to the school environment at such an early age, my son’s social skills have grown ten-fold because of it.

However, I am now also one of the many parents that has begun to wonder, is it too much? Is praising and celebrating every small accomplishment for our children doing more harm than good? My son earned a participation trophy for completing his swimming class as well, not because he competed in any races, but just because he showed up. Everyone gets an award for anything now. praise-good-effort-not-intelligence

These well-intended practices I think have begun to backfire on loving parents that just meant to foster their children’s growth and development. What it IS doing is teaching our child that there is no such thing as a poorly done job, that if you show up that’s enough. Forget about going the extra mile, you were here, and that’s good enough. It’s not.  This idea teaches our children that they are owed this praise, no matter little effort or achievement they put in, an award is in order.

My son can fail many, many times and that is just fine with me. Failure is a good thing, telling our children they can do better is a good thing. It teaches our children humility, motivation, drive.  It’s okay to tell our children they did something poorly, that they lost, trust me. How will our children learn what success is if they don’t experience failure?

If our children are constantly awarded and praised for everything that they do, they will never understand how much work and how many times one must hit rock bottom to truly succeed. I believe true appreciation of success comes from many failures and having the nerve to get back up and try again. Challenging our children and allowing them to fail is a wonderful way to learn. I know from my own childhood the things that I learned the most from are the times that I failed. My child needs to feel that too, not because it builds character, but it will teach him that success is not just handed to you in the real would.

He needs to know that life will kick you even further down when you are at your lowest, and shove you when you begin to stand up and probably right into a mud puddle in front of twenty people that will point and laugh instead of helping you. That the moment you are laying in the cold mud, miserable and embarrassed is the moment you really begin your path to success. failure

I am very proud of my son, he is bright, he shows so much potential, but he’s four, he is still forming who he is as a person and that is what preschool is part of, growing up, no more, no less.  By giving him an award for just showing up to the party does not teach him any more than that just showing up is enough to succeed. In order for our children to truly succeed, they need to learn to graciously fail and except defeat, dust their knees off and keep trying, to learn to fail, is, in its own way learning what it is to succeed.

And so, I will teach my son what it is to fail, he will know when he has failed, so he in turn knows the true meaning of success, perseverance, and  accomplishment.


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Adaptation

Spring is coming into full swing here in Barrow, it consistently hovers around zero degrees or higher, the sun is back and if I hold still and face it, I think I might actually feel some warmth. In just a few more weeks whaling season begins. Puiraagiaqta, the Spring Festival is happening right now, a celebration of the turn of the seasons, which means hunting season is here. There is an unusual list of events that composes Puiraagiaqta, at least unusual by lower 48 standards. This list includes: snow machine races, whaling crew pinochle, harpoon throwing, a maklak race, nigliq (goose) calling contest, akutuq (eskimo ice cream)contest, umiaq (seal skin boat) race and of course a parade. All pretty foreign to me, but we are getting used to it, the parade was interesting, not really a parade but a train of the utility vehicles, and firetrucks decorated and throwing candy (I think mostly everyone goes for the candy)Barrow Utilities Truck

Ukpeagvik Inupiat Corporation, really the only float of the whole parade,the company owns most of the town, so makes sense.

Ukpeagvik Inupiat Corporation, really the only float of the whole parade,the company owns most of the town, so makes sense.

Barrow Fire Department

Since when do people bring bags to parades for candy? I think my son got more candy here than on Halloween!

Since when do people bring bags to parades for candy? I think my son got more candy here than on Halloween!

Kids and adults battled over the free candy, I think that's why everyone goes to anything here, free stuff.

Kids and adults battled over the free candy, I think that’s why everyone goes to anything here, free stuff.

I have amazed myself in how drastically I have changed in my opinions in certain areas since moving here, whaling and hunting happen to be one of those areas. Whaling is a substantial part of the Inupiat culture and I knew about that before excepting my job on the North Slope, I did my research before coming here.

 

I still maintain that it was quite a bit of fate that got me back into Alaska in the first place,  I had never considered coming back here after I left a few years back. Although, I must admit I have often thought of what would have happened if I had stayed, I might still be married. My ex didn’t get very far outside of where I left him in Wasilla, in fact, he’s only about 10 minutes away from the house that I lived in with him, I’ve moved a lot further in the time since we have split, and maybe even grown a bit more, yet now I am even closer to him, I’ve seen him twice already in 2 months and talked more sincerly to him than I think we probably did that last year we had together. Although, I have to say, if I had stayed I probably would not have experienced Alaska quite like this, but I will always wonder what if. I’m not quite sure why I’m back here yet, but everything happens for a reason right? Granted for some, those reasons are often the result of bad decision making skills and poor choices, I would like to think myself above that though.

 

Whaling, something that one hears about as a kid, but no one ever thinks they will see, stories of times past, back when whale blubber was still used to power lamps and make perfume. Turns out in certain places whaling is still alive and well, part of a cultural and subsistence lifestyle, the North Slope is one of those places, the whale of choice is bowhead, but belugas are hunted as well, along with the other notorious arctic sea mammals, walrus, ringed seal, spotted seal, I suppose even the polar bear is considered an arctic sea mammal in way and it is not spared from hunting either. Its something I had to come to terms with before moving here, the hunting, the furs, the way of life. I needed to be sure that was something I wanted to experience and that I was okay with my son experiencing as well. So where else does someone go when the want to learn? Why, YouTube and Google, of course!

I googled for hours and what I found was gory, somewhat brutal and amazing. I was amazed with how much the children are present and allowed to participate in the rendering of the whale. It is quite a sight to watch a 35 ton animal be dismantled, I say dismantled, because butchering just doesn’t cut it when taking apart an animal that is larger than a school bus. Its quite a blood bath, this business, the blood pours from wounds like rivers, melting away the snow and ice underneath, creating giant blood puddles.

Blood puddles are starting to form

Blood puddles are starting to form

Even the heavy machinery gets involved, I'm pretty sure they didn't use forklifts back in theday

Even the heavy machinery gets involved, I’m pretty sure they didn’t use forklifts back in the day

The children are allowed to play on the whale like a giant community playground, I wonder if they realize they are playing on carcass? I had wondered as I watched the videos. It is a giant celebration, the take down of these beautiful marine mammals, the animal is rendered fast as lightening, I’m definitely impressed with how quickly the animals are rationed out to the members of the community, intended as subsistence food until the next season permits more hunting. (Food at the store is so expensive in Barrow, many people still rely on subsistence food for their main source of nutrients.) I watched these videos with mixed horror and fascination, trying to picture myself there, I wonder if I have to eat any if its offered? Would it be disrespectful if I refused? What does it taste like? Does it smell? My mother had told me that everyone that lives in these communities smells a bit of whale, what does that smell like? I wondered if what my mother said was true, does everything smell of whale? My mom has a way of embellishing her strong, often slightly skewed views on other cultures, so it must be taken with a grain of salt. Do I want my son to be a part of this, is this what I want him seeing in his most formative years? I wasn’t really sure that it would be appropriate, so much death, maybe not so much, but such a large animal makes it seem like more death.

Turns out whaling is quite a different experience than I thought it would be, its exciting, the whole community is alive with activity. There is a lot more to this process than meets the eye, the preparation, if anything, is amazing in itself. The women stretch and prepare the umiaq’s for hunting, special explosive harpoons are prepped months ahead of time, much work goes into the process. I was privileged enough to attend this past falls whale hunt, and I brought my son. I think it was good for him, I let him play on the whale with the other kids, sliding down the body like a regular slip-and-slide, the blood and guts didn’t even phase him, and to my surprise, it didn’t phase me either.

Kids playing on bowhead whale, the baleen sticking out of the mouth like a fan

Kids playing on bowhead whale, the baleen sticking out of the mouth like a fan

It seemed like the whole town was there It was a natural thing, to be there, I tasted maktak (boiled whale blubber and skin) it wasn’t terrible although I picked gray bits of skin from between my teeth for days after, it smelled and tasted of fish. The smell is interesting, a mix of metallic blood, fish and fat all in one. Much of the whale is partitioned out to the elders and some sent to the smaller villages to help people get through the season, many of the villages don’t have grocery stores and the only access to them is by bush plane.

Giant gaff like hooks are used to drag the huge strips of blubber

Giant gaff like hooks are used to drag the huge strips of blubber

I now see why there is still a need for hunting like this here, but maybe not to the extent that it is practiced. One thing I have seen, which I wish was different, is the amount of whale that has gone to waste, I often see it sitting next to dumpsters, smelling and rotting, or just discarded in a box on the side of the dirt roads, I think that is unfortunate, much of the animal goes to waste in that sense. I very much worry about how this place will look and smell when it finally thaws out, its enough to see the meat sitting outside the dumpsters, along with blood and scraps of bone and skin, but at least its cold and it doesn’t smell too awful, yet.

I am looking forward to the celebration of the spring whaling season, it is exciting if anything else, I don’t relish the thought of the death of whales, but the way it brings the community together here is amazing and a sight to see in itself. It is yet again, like most things in the arctic, one of those things that seems unbelievable and something that you wouldn’t agree with in normal circumstances, but things change, your view points change, you adapt, and that is exactly what I’ve started to do because this place is a whole different world.


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100% fatal, everytime

I decapitated an animal today. Before this gets too much stranger, I will explain why a dogs head had to be taken off and  packaged for shipment in a cardboard box:Rabies Virus Rabies virus is a 100% fatal, 100% preventable disease, it is a zoonotic disease; meaning it is infectious across various species, in the case of rabies, all mammals. It is transmitted through a vector animal (main source of disease in area) via saliva; ie. a bite.  The virus attacks the central nervous system, symptoms of rabies include: hydrophobia, muscle fasiculations, hyper salivation, aggression, self-mutilation, anorexia, paralysis, coma, and death. There is only one way to confirm a rabies infection, and the patient being tested will not ever know the test results. In order to test for the virus, the brain matter must be tested, thus the reason for having to decapitate a dog today. The one good thing about this virus-its preventable.

Rabies is not uncommon on the North Slope, the main vector is the arctic fox, one of the most beautiful, sturdy little animals you could ever have the chance to see. As of lately though, the red fox has been making its way north and has been found to also be a source of exposure to the virus.Global warming at its finest. Dogs are most often tied up outside year round, the fox will come into town when food is short on the tundra, they will fight with the dogs. If there is a litter of puppies exposed, they may go after them. Due to the increased chance of exposure to the bug, the borough requires that rabies vaccines be given annually to pets rather than the traditional three year requirement of most states. As a service to the community, these vaccines are offered at no charge, provided by the state. In some of the villages, Veterinarians, Animal Control Officers, the Army, Coast Guard, will go door to door twice yearly offering vaccines to try to prevent the spread of the disease to pets and possibly humans. There is little, if no reason at all to not routinely vaccinate your pet here on the slope, the consequences of not doing so could truly be fatal for a loved member of your family, even to you. (It should be noted that there have only been 3 confirmed human cases of rabies caused death in Alaska, the last one in 1943, this could be due to the fact that most people when bitten by a wild animal will seek medical treatment and will get post-exposure prophylactic treatment.)

My point is, we as a society have forgotten what it is like to face a disease epidemic. We have become complacent in giving our children too many vaccines for fear of them potentially causing autism, relying on ‘herd immunity’ to protect them. Herd immunity only works if the herd has immunity, this means either exposure to the virus and survival of the disease process, something called natural acquired immunity, or vaccination, artificial acquired immunity. Either way the body is protected against contracting and spreading these viruses through vaccination. True there are individuals, animals as well, that have specific allergies to vaccines, and maybe not to the vaccine, but the preservative, or additives in it, those individuals do have to rely on herd immunity, and the herd should be able to protect.

Vaccination isn’t there just to protect yourself or your own child, your pet, but also a community. Is it fair to expose a child to an infectious disease like Rabies? I think everyone agrees that’s a big fat no, why shouldn’t it be the same with other infectious diseases easily prevented by vaccination. Measles, mumps, polio, rubella, all have vaccines for them and all are very dangerous viruses, yet parents are willing to forgo the vaccine and risk the chance of their child being exposed to one of these bugs all for the big MAYBE, that might be autism induced by vaccination. Not only are parents taking that risk for their children, but potentially other children and members of the community. It’s easy to think that a vaccine isn’t needed until your child is exposed to a virus that could be fatal. Vaccination Statistics I have looked at a fatal virus as it has consumed another life, I have had to tell people they cannot have their dog back because of a disease that is preventable by vaccination, everyone exposed will have to go through a very expensive, grueling medical protocol on the chance that they may have contracted the virus. I have seen the light go back on in some of these people, the realization that their actions, or lack of; by not following vaccine protocol instilled to protect, have consequences, potentially lethal consequences. I certainly hope that this is not the way that people realize that it the benefits far outweigh the possible side effects of vaccination. I believe in vaccinating my child, I believe in vaccinating my animals. I believe that I am better protecting my son, my pets and my community by inoculating them against deadly diseases. Cut off a few heads, and you just might too.