Another interesting delicacy the Eskimos love is whale. It’s seems to be more rare than other meats, but one whale’s meat could feed a whole village. A few days ago, Grant called and asked if I wanted to try bowhead whale, so Kim and I ran over to his house. This is the kind of whale that’s found only at the northernmost tip of the world. If you can believe it, they pop pieces of whale blubber and skin in their mouths like I would with peanuts or Starbursts or something. I took a piece of the raw blubber and skin, placed it on my tongue, and waited for the gag reflex to kick in so I could fight it. It didn’t, though, because the raw whale wasn’t that bad! It wasn’t good, but it wasn’t raw salmon or bloody seal. It was oily, salty, and very chewy. I remember picking the rubbery whale skin out of my teeth all day.
Just a day or so after eating whale, I was cooking supper on the stove when a native friend knocked on our door with the news that someone had caught a whale. I turned the stove off and left everything out—we frantically threw on some layers and ran to the river, where a few four-wheelers were waiting for the boat to come in. We watched the tiny dot on the horizon turn into a boat-shaped dot as it came closer and closer, our anticipation building all the while. No one knew at this point what kind of whale it was or how big it was. It seemed like the whole village was watching as they finally pulled the shimmery white whale onto the muddy riverbank. The little girl next to me said excitedly, “This is my first time seeing a Beluga whale!” I smiled and said, “It’s my first time too,” thinking how lucky I was that I happened to be here for this. I eventually got so close to the whale I could smell the breath lingering in its open mouth. I felt of its tongue and teeth, and I ran my hand along its slippery skin, soaking in every moment of this once-in-a-lifetime occurrence.
The whole night was kind of surreal; it was like what you’d see in a movie about an Eskimo village coming together as one to bring food to their people. They used ropes, snow machines, four-wheelers, and rows of men to pull the whale onto land. They skillfully butchered the whale as a team. The next day, a whole class of high school kids had to leave school so they could deliver the whale meat and blubber all over the village. It’s such a blessing to be able to see from the inside how villages like this function and how a culture like this exists.
The next night, Kim and I trekked out under cover of darkness to see what was left of the Beluga and what we could find as a keepsake from it. We found the entire head and its red intestines and organs lying frozen in the snow. We quickly decided we’d try to carve a few teeth out of the head because, really, how cool would it be to have a Beluga whale tooth? So with sharp knives, thick gloves, and fierce determination, we separated some massive bone from its connected muscles and meat, cut through the skin and tongue and everything else to finally detach the lower jaw from the huge whale head. We carried the whole thing home, victorious, and saved the teeth pulling for later.