A Whale of a Story

I decided to take a little trip to celebrate my son’s birthday, the start of his fiftieth year on this earth. He lives in Nome, Alaska, so it isn’t exactly a walk in the sunny park to get there. It means planning and plane reservations and buying a real winter coat and wool socks and all kinds of expensive and inconvenient planning. But he’s worth the effort, so I am not complaining much. If you don’t know where Nome is, think of a map of Alaska, a half-inch from the Arctic Circle and an inch from Russia, and you’ll just about hit it head on. It is so cold in Nome that the saltwater Bering Sea freezes solid in the winter. If I had been smart, I would have conceived him to be born in July, but I didn’t.

Visiting Nome can be an adventure, and I’m all about adventures these days. I figured he and his wife would be working, so dreamed of making snow angels, watching mating musk oxen, and counting snowflakes to determine if it was a blizzard, a storm, or just a flurry. They all look alike to me, and it’s part of the adventure.

But something I hadn’t anticipated came in the form of a young native Alaskan girl I met at the Anchorage airport. She told me she was 21 but expressed that she couldn’t believe that she was 21 because she didn’t feel any different from when she was 20. I just nodded in understanding and agreement because I don’t feel much different from when I was 20 either, except for my right knee and lack of hearing, but I didn’t mention it. She went on to tell me a story.

She relayed her excitement about going home from her trip to Las Vegas, an American cultural mecca, to her hometown of Barrow, Alaska, which is far above the Arctic Circle, lying on the Arctic Sea. She told me about hunting a bow whale and whipped out a picture showing her standing on last year’s catch, a 25-foot whale. “Next year, larger,” she said.

Her excitement was contagious, and the various other people (lower-48-Americans who knew nothing about whaling or how some cultures couldn’t survive without it) listened with interest about whale hunting. She was a fascinating young woman who tempted and encouraged me to give whale blubber a try, “It is such a treat and best when it melts on the roof your mouth,” audibly sighing as she spoke of it. She was anxious to get home and return to her culture, leaving Las Vegas and Phoenix as blips in her 21-year-old memory.

I was grateful to this young storyteller for allowing me to go on this adventure with her. She reminded me that adventure is all around us. I enjoyed this one, but no matter what, I’m not eating whale blubber.

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