There I was, walking from the camp to our drilling rig (Doyon 141) that is located on the J pad in Kuparik on the North Slope. Despite the fact that I only had to walk about 100 yards to my work area, which is the rock washer building located on the back side of the rig, the wind was creating a wind chill of about -65 degrees. My hands and face were tingling from the cold as I tried to block the wind from my face by shielding it with my hand.
Despite the cold windy conditions, an arctic fox followed a short distance behind me hoping I would toss him some lunch of some type. The cold seemed to have little effect on him as he was snuggled in a thick, wooly looking white fur coat that covered him completely from the tip of his nose to the end of his tail. Perhaps he could smell the warm lunch I had in my backpack, maybe it was just coincidence that he was following me, or perhaps the path he was on was just part of his daily routine.
Last summer a pair of arctic foxes raised a litter of pups from under the old Parker Drilling 245 rig. We watched them from the time they were just small pups that never ventured too far from the safety of their den till they were big and brave enough to run and chase each other the full length of the pad, which is several hundred yards long. These pups were as big of a part of our lives as the oil field was a part of theirs. As the summer ended, they immediately started growing their winter coats, which changed their appearance from a very poorly dressed creature wearing a scruffy brown jacket into a very elegant looking model wearing an expensive white fur coat. Did you know that it takes about 12 arctic fox hides to make one adult jacket?
The arctic fox is so professionally dressed in the wintertime that severe arctic weather seems to have little effect on them. The thick fur coat they wear at one point was in very high demand by members of our human race. Even though wearing arctic fox has proven to be very warm to the Eskimos of both Greenland and Alaska, they also tore very easily and it became almost an art to learn how to wear one without tearing it.
The Eskimo women of Greenland who could sew and make animal skin jackets were highly sought after in the entire village they lived in. However, it was considered very immoral to ask the wife of another man to sew something for you without first making some type of trade or barter with the husband. Often times he might demand wood to make a new harpoon with or other items such as coffee or furs.
Despite feeling the pangs of cold as I briskly walked to the drilling rig, I couldn’t help but notice the big raven sitting on the steel pipe outside of our pump room. There he stood on the pipe that was running vertically alongside of the rig and he was perched there barefooted! No shoes, no fur covering, no insulating hair of any kind, just rather gnarly looking black feet clamped onto a two inch piece of pipe, like he thinks he is on some beach in California! The wind chill is hovering around 65 and Mr. Raven is using a steel post for a roost! If this weren’t the toughest, most durable bird in the world I would really hate to meet the bird that beat him out.
We have several ravens that live year-round on J pad in Kuparik, and prior to Parker 245 moving off the location they even nested in that giant old rig. That rig provided a nesting site for the ravens and a den for the fox as well as shade for the caribou at times during the summer.
During my last hitch, which ended on April 13th, I saw Mr. Raven and an arctic fox play a game one snowy, windy day on the tundra about 150 yards from our rig. I first spotted the fox streaking across the tundra heading for the big raven sitting there by himself. The fox got about four feet from the big bird before the raven flew. He landed about twenty-five feet away and once again the fox was after him! Each time the fox could only get about three to four feet from him before the raven flew, but each time he only flew about twenty-five feet away and that fox would be stalking him again. This game went on for at least a half hour before the raven finally flew off.
On Sunday, April 15th, Travis, Colt and I left the house around 5 a.m. to drive to Daniels Lake north of Nikiski to try our luck at ice fishing there for rainbows before going to church. We found over 3 feet of ice there and soon we were fishing despite all three of us only being about half awake. The fish were biting slowly and we were having a hard time hooking them, but it was a very nice day and it was good to be out enjoying ice fishing at the end of the season.
As we sat there, we noticed a northern hawk-owl land in a tree near shore that appeared to be watching us. I instructed Travis to take a handful of shrimp and throw it out on the ice to feed the bird. Immediately he landed on the ice about forty feet from us and did a clumsy type of a waddle over to the shrimp. His ungraceful gait reminded me of a man dressed up in an expensive suit with his suspenders pulled up a little too far!
He stopped directly above the first piece of fresh shrimp and grabbed it in his beak and swallowed it, right? No -- wrong!! He spit it out and shook his head almost in disgust, like you would expect from a kid that had just convinced Grandma that he really did want to taste the nice smelling cooking vanilla.
Then he stood there and glared at us for at least ten minutes almost as though he was saying “Nice try guys feeding me shrimp. I don’t eat shrimp and I know you guys are fishermen so throw me a fish!” I thought “Ya right you thief, bring back the four chickens you stole from me first! I did finally win the stare down and he left before either of us got violent. See you next week!
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