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Harriman Expedition Retraced

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Expedition Log: August 16, 2001

Patricia Savage

Teller, Port Clarence; Little Diomede Island

Temperature 30 degrees Fahrenheit
Sunrise: 6:45 a.m., Sunset 11: 36 p.m
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We are in a well of blue skies with fog out on the horizon. Morning blushed pink on a distant concrete oilrig being deployed to the North Slope. At 7:30 a.m. we began disembarking for a short two-hour visit to the Eskimo town, Teller. Glorious morning light poured over hills and fog. At that hour in the morning, the beach town was empty.

Shortly after landing we were treated to Native dancing. These dances were from North America and Siberia. Several years ago, two elders from Little Diomede came over and taught them traditional dances from both places. The Native Americans have since created several videos of their dancing which they trade amongst themselves.

teller dancers

Traditional Eskimo dancers in Teller. (Photo by National Ocean Service, NOAA).
Click image for a larger view.

The two elders each had a drum about 22" in diameter. The outer ring was made from hardwood, covered with Ceconte, a synthetic fabric frequently used for covering airplanes. Traditionally they were covered in walrus stomach. Use-polished walrus tusk formed the handle. The elders beat upon the drum with an extremely thin and flexible one half-inch strip of wood. The stick was slapped against the bottom, hitting the sidewalls, which produced two sounds. One sound was the sharp click of two sticks being hit and the other was the boom of a drum.

Pulling out of Teller, we headed out into a stiff wind. Misty clouds and intermittent blue sky turned the sea into a patchwork of bright light and dark gray. After passing through one patch of mist, Kes Woodward came rushing up to announce he had passed through a rainbow. He had been watching it come closer on the bow of the ship. As the ship neared it, the rainbow began to make a circle in front and below him and then the ship passed through.

We arrived to Little Diomede Island at 3:45 p.m. The mountainside looked like a giant had crumbled many large rocks and made many massive rock piles. Loose boulders were everywhere. Where there was grass, the white blossoms of chickweed created snow-like drifts. Stilted houses backed with stone and sod perched precariously on the rocky landscape.

Drying Oogruk (bearded) seal thigh hung from poles. The meat has been drying since June. As it dries, the meat develops a thin skin that seals the raw meat. The Eskimos either cook it or eat it raw. In winter it is stored, and stays frozen, in a cold cellar. Walrus skin boats rest upside down on rocks. Skins that have had the blubber and fur cut away (see Sergey Frolov's lecture) lay lashed and stretching upon wooden frames.

Ten years ago they got electricity. A helicopter comes once a week to deliver the mail. Water is collected from rainwater and snow that is temporarily stored in a holding tank up the hillside. Gravity pulls it down to a huge water tank that due to its huge mass doesn't freeze in the winter, and gravity pulls the water into the homes. They use heavy equipment for clearing their frozen winter runway. The town is very excited to get their repaired backhoe back from Nome. The bulldozer will have to be replaced. It sank through the ice last year. The islanders are taking seawater samples in cooperation with the University of Tennessee and a National Science Foundation grant. One hundred and fifty feet out from the shore, the water salinity, temperature, and phytoplankton are sampled to test the changes throughout the year.

helipad

Helipad on Little Diomede. (Photo by National Ocean Service, NOAA).
Click image for a larger view.

Our guide then invited us to the school to watch their traditional dances. Five drums beat out the rhythms, while young men, women and children danced. Hands were held open, slightly cupped, gracefully weaving a story. Hand movements accentuated the drumbeats. Boys stomped their right feet to the beat and the women gently swayed.

With children's calls of good-by, we left Little Diomede and headed back into the Bering Sea. At 7:20 p.m. we crossed into Russia and saw walrus! Around 11:00 p.m. we cross the Arctic Circle and then head back South to our next port-of-call.

(View the day's photos)

(Community Profile: Little Diomede)

(Community Profile: Teller)


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For information on the Harriman Retraced Expedition e-mail: harriman2001@science.smith.edu

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