The adventures seem to never end. You never know what’s coming when the phone rings or someone knocks on the door. A few weeks ago, Grant came by to invite me to watch two seals being butchered. His oldest son caught a ribbon seal and a spotted seal just hours before, so the meat and fat needed to be cut and stored. I headed to his house with a camera, having no idea what to expect.
I watched as he and his wife Sarah sliced into the seals, carving delicately at the fur and skin with a traditional ulu knife, and then slipping the knife smoothly through tissues and around organs. It was like the seal’s innards were a maze, and they had the answer key.
What I like about spending time with Grant and Sarah is that they are full of knowledge about their culture and they love sharing it, so as I watched them and listened, I learned more about how Eskimos used to (some still do) survive in the arctic using only what the land offers. When Grant left and Sarah still had to skin the second seal, I threw on some gloves and got my hands bloody. The seal meat, organs, and blood were still warm inside. As I very un-expertly slid the ulu back and forth on the dark maroon seal meat, I had flashbacks of separating cat muscles and skin back in high school biology. Sarah offered us plenty of seal meat, and that night we had a feast of onions, brown gravy, and seal, which tastes like tough liver.
Just a few days later, we saw a bearded seal being butchered in a native’s yard. This seal is large and very smelly. We walked past the butchering toward some fish racks, where the smell of drying fish is almost unbearable sometimes. To me, this process of drying their meat is astounding and, honestly, stomach-churning. Seasoned with the flavors of dirt and flies and who knows what else, this dried fish, seal, and moose jerky is a lovely treat for any native. I’ve stomached dried halibut, dried seal, and dried moose just out of interest and respect for the culture, but the dried salmon I tried really was a tasty treat (unlike the raw salted salmon I choked down, eyes watering, my gag reflex begging to let me let it take over). This salted salmon was something Grant offered us, and when he showed us the dish of it, the salmon’s eyeball peeked up at us from the water. “Is that its eye?” I asked him. “That’s my favorite part,” he said. “It explodes in your mouth.” I can swallow the raw salmon meat, but I’m pretty sure that the eye would explode OUT of my mouth if I had to chew on that. But it may just be tastier than that dried seal we somehow ate. When Kim bit into her dried seal, blackish blood gushed down her chin.
Did I mention that I have a dream at least three times a week about Mexican food or something as simple as chicken, milk, lettuce, or a sandwich? It seems that I took everything for granted before. I won’t make that mistake again!