There was a strange hush over the landscape. The sky was a dark gray, and large snowflakes drifted quietly to the ground. I was in Barrow, Alaska. I had gone there soon after completing my AA. I worked at the Navel Arctic Research Lab.
One of the last classes I had taken at college was in cultural anthropology. In this class we had watched a classic old black-and-white film documenting a primitive African tribe. This film chronicled the hunt of a giraffe. The tribesmen had wounded a giraffe, then followed it for days before it finally fell. The narrator explained how there was a traditional way of dividing the meat. The person who first wounded the giraffe got some of the choicest portions. Everyone in the hunting party got a portion, then they in turn divided their portions with their entire family. Thus, the whole village was fed.
On this day in Barrow I happened to be at some whale researchers’ hut, when the word came in “a whale had been taken.” I was invited to go along.
We all got on snowmobiles and headed out to the open lead in the arctic ice. When we arrived, many people from the town of Barrow were already there. A series of pulleys had been set up on the ice. Everyone was manually pulling ropes to hoist the whale out of the water. We all joined in. Skilled Inupiat hunters quickly began butchering the enormous mammal. The scientists I had come with were busy, also.
I stood quietly aside and watched the joyous activity. An older Inupiat woman came up to me and offered me some fresh whale blubber. She began explaining to me about how the whaling captain would get the choicest meat, directly behind the tail. She went on explaining their traditional way of dividing up the whale so that the whole village would be fed.
Her voice faded as I experienced in that instant the awe of the universal human condition. Civilizations separated by thousands of miles and many years shared so much. The need to work together to get food for survival and the tradition of caring for and feeding others in their villages. Also they both had gratitude to the spirit of the fallen animal that would become their meal. I had helped pull in this whale. I was also connected to the universal human condition. The world seemed hushed, I looked to the sky, I was humbled and exhilarated.
I believe we are all connected. I believe things that help us experience this connection, art, literature, music and sharing our human experiences are what life is all about.
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