Ronald Brower, Sr. was interviewed on March 8, 2016 by Karen Brewster at Elmer E. Rasmuson Library at the University of Alaska Fairbanks in Fairbanks, Alaska. In this first part of a two part interview, Ronald talks about living a traditional subsistence lifestyle as a child and learning to hunt and go whaling. He discusses ice conditions, what to pay attention to in order to be safe, and how conditions have changed in his lifetime. He also talks about drifting out on the ice and the 1997 ice break-off event near Barrow.
Digital Asset Information
Project: Sea Ice Project Jukebox
Date of Interview: Mar 8, 2016
Narrator(s): Ronald Brower, Sr.
Interviewer(s): Karen Brewster
Transcriber: Sue Beck
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Personal and family background
Childhood at Iviksuk
First experience whaling, and traveling on the ice by dog team
Distance out to the lead in the old days
Times when there was no open lead during spring whaling, and effect of thinning ice
Learning about ice from the elders, and loss of life to the sea
Going whaling with his uncle, Tom Brower, and being a boyer
Watching ice movement, current, and weather conditions at whale camp
Different types of current, and places where the currents meet
Temperature and color of water, and presence of three currents
Effect of current on ice conditions, and multi-year ice (piqaluyak)
Effect of current on ice movement
Encountering big icebergs, and harvesting a whale in June
Effect of current on ice conditions, and dangerous conditions from ice melting from below
Falling through ice that was eroded from warm water below
Difference between melt water on top of ice and open holes in the ice
Drifting out on the ice
Experience of 1997 ice break-off event
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KAREN BREWSTER: Today is March 8, 2016. This is Karen Brewster, and I’m here with Ronald Brower, Sr. And we are in Fairbanks, Alaska, even though we’re going to be talking about Barrow and the North Slope.
We are here at Rasmuson Library at the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus. And this is for the Sea Ice Project Jukebox.
Ron, thank you for taking time today. I know you’re very busy. RONALD BROWER: Uh-huh.
KAREN BREWSTER: Just to get us started, so people who don’t know you, you can tell me a little bit about yourself and your background. Growing up and those kinds of things.
RONALD BROWER: Okay. My name is Ronald Brower. But I grew up with the name Aniqsuaq, and a lot of times the other name Kakinya.
And, occasionally, I was also called Ulimaun.
I was born in 1949. After I was born, my mother had TB and was sent out to a sanatorium, so I was raised by my Great-grandma, Aalaak.
And so when my mom went to the sanatorium, my father moved us into the country up at -- to Iviksuk, where his Uncle Alec was located. KAREN BREWSTER: Alec Ahsoak?
RONALD BROWER: Alec Ahsoak. Old Man Ahsoak. So, Ahsoak being Asiaŋŋataq's brother, younger brother.
And also next to us was their half-brother, Okomailak. He’s the brother -- he’s the father of Hold Pikok and Daniel Okomailak. So --
KAREN BREWSTER: And your parents’ names were -- ?
RONALD BROWER: My parents are Kupaaq -- Harry Brower, Sr. And my mother is Annie Hopson Brower. Steve Hopson’s oldest child.
KAREN BREWSTER: Did your mother have an Iñupiaq name?
RONALD BROWER: Qaġġun. I believe it was Qaġġun and Kivaq. And those are the two that I recall.
KAREN BREWSTER: And where is Iviksuk?
RONALD BROWER: Iviksuk is about thirty miles south of Barrow located at the -- on the Inaru River where the creek Iviksuk flows from a large lake, Suŋuġruaq.
I don’t know an English name for Suŋuġruaq. KAREN BREWSTER: I don’t know if it has one.
RONALD BROWER: But it’s a long lake. And we lived on one side of the creek and Ahsoak lived across from us.
Next to us was Arnold Brower, Sr. with his two older children, Jennie and Arnold. We were next door.
Eugene and -- Eunice and Eugene were older than I. I was the youngest.
Across the creek was Old Man Ahsoak lived in his own little house. And right next to him was Mark. His son Mark and Jenny, their two children Carl and Taalak. Taalak and Kapu. James and Carl. Yeah. There we go.
And then next to them was -- on the other side was Hold Pikok, the Pikok family. Tommy and his younger brother were living there. Fannie wasn’t born yet.
And right next over there next to them was his father, Old Man Okomailak and his wife.
KAREN BREWSTER: And so what was life like out at Iviksuk. How old were you?
RONALD BROWER: I must’ve been quite young ‘cause I don’t recall my mother. But I do recall growing up, becoming aware of my surroundings.
I must’ve been going to two or three years old when I became aware of where we were living, or I remembered.
And from the time I started remembering things, we were living -- I must’ve been two or three years old living at Iviksuk.
I recall being there wintertime and my dad would take us on his dog team traveling to places like Usuqtuq up toward -- we’d go up to Usuqtuq River, which was on the -- which was on the Meade River across from the current -- or close by the current Atqasuk.
So that was about thirty/forty mile travel by dog team, which we would make in about two days.
And then we’d camp over there at Usuqtuq and do some fishing and then continue on eastward as my dad laid out his trap line.
Then we’d go over to -- spend a day travel to go visit Aunt Sadie (Neakok) up at Tupagaruk, and stay there a day or two and then head back to our camp where grandma was. So that was our -- part of our winter routine.
In the summertime, we’d be traveling. My dad had made a boat. He had a kayak and a skiff. So we would travel by boat in the summertime.
Aalaak and family. We had Nate and Joe. I think Nate and Eddie were with us. Olemaun. Ulimaun was one of her children, as well, but he was in the Air Force, and so Nate and Eddie spent the summers with us inland.
And then I believe in ‘56 after we -- the last time we were up -- up there, we came down by boat. We collected wood, and we barely made it to Piġniq.
Loaded down with caribou -- drift -- we were about three quarter of an inch above water as we sailed across the Eielson (means Elson Lagoon) into Piġniq.
And just as we were coming across, coming into the beach, we started -- a boat came by and we started taking water. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, no.
RONALD BROWER: And we were sinking, so we just hit the beach just at the right time. Just before we sank.
KAREN BREWSTER: Lucky! Now you said you were sailing. Did you actually have a sail?
RONALD BROWER: No. We were sialġi. We were floating.
We were traveling in calm water, just going along. A smooth ride all the way home.
Not sailing, sialġi. We’re gliding across the water.
KAREN BREWSTER: I don’t know that word. It's a --
RONALD BROWER: We were gliding across the water. We could only go so fast, so water wasn’t coming in the boat.
KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. Like being up on step.
RONALD BROWER: Yeah. We just got a certain speed. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. RONALD BROWER: Until we made it to Piġniq.
KAREN BREWSTER: So -- RONALD BROWER: So that was -- KAREN BREWSTER: -- how many years then did you live at Iviksuk?
RONALD BROWER: I don’t recall how many years we were there, but I do recall that back in ’54, we had to walk to Barrow at that time because all the older kids had to go to school.
The word came down that the government required people to move to schools -- by schools. So our entire village moved to Barrow.
So did a whole bunch of other small villages that were scattered all along the coast from here toward Canada.
And everybody else to the west of us, they either had to move to -- either to Barrow or to Wainwright. And the next place was Point Hope.
So people were -- With the threat of removing children from families, the families complied to putting their children to school.
KAREN BREWSTER: Right. So how old were you when you remember first going out on the ice and going either seal hunting or whaling?
RONALD BROWER: I was nine years old when I first went -- when I went out on my first whaling event. I was at the age of nine.
I was -- my Grandpa Steve sent me and Freddie and his cousin George Ungarook, both of them my uncles, and we were given a dog team to --
We took my dad’s dog team. We weren't given one. We took my dad’s dog team out on the ice, and where it was going to be a two-day run to get to the whale.
So on our first leg we traveled through pretty rough ice, so by four o’clock in the afternoon we reached the halfway point.
Rested the dogs there, were fed, and then after the dogs rested about eight hours we were up and on our way again.
So it was -- it wasn’t getting dark, so we traveled until another day’s worth of travel.
About four o’clock the next day, we hit the whale camp where they were cutting a big whale.
I believe Ned Nusunginya had caught a whale about either thirty-five, forty miles miles out that year. The first -- the lead was way out.
KAREN BREWSTER: That’s a long way out.
RONALD BROWER: There was no lead close by. That was back in the 1950s. ’58, somewhere around there, that this -- that we had to go way out there.
And that year, it was the only whale caught for the community of Barrow, and it was a big one.
I think they figured it must've been about seventy-seven feet, because they had to take the head off in order to get the body out.
KAREN BREWSTER: Hm-mm. And the ice was thick enough to support pulling up that big of a whale?
RONALD BROWER: Oh, yeah. At that time, the ice must've been about twenty-five feet thick. It was multi-year ice.
It was pretty -- twenty-five foot thick ice was pretty common. Average ice depth was about eight or nine feet average.
In them days, it was a lot colder than it is today. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. RONALD BROWER: So ice in those days was pretty thick.
You know, it was -- in those days, minus twenty was fairly warm weather for us. And especially on nice, calm, sunny days, it was a great time to be out whaling.
Even though the ice was forming in the water, we just keep it clear. But at that time we were way out.
We went down -- our trail went from -- straight from Ukuksi right there, and we went about -- straight out.
We were traveling -- once we got out, we started traveling westward. Then we made a westward turn and then we would turn eastward and straight back out to go around some pressure ridges.
And once we got -- so it took us a while to get there.
KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. So if the lead was that far out - thirty-five miles - did people stay out at camp longer than they do now?
RONALD BROWER: Oh, yeah. They were staying out there trying to get that whale in. Everybody was helping out because it was a big whale.
And being the only whale being caught with no open water anywhere else, everybody was trying to get that whale delivered to the safer ground.
But it never broke up that year, so it was just a long ways out.
KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. Well, I was thinking, in general, if the lead was farther out back then. Well, let me rephrase that.
Can you -- was the lead farther out or it’s just it varies year-to-year?
RONALD BROWER: This was the one time that the lead -- there was no lead close by Barrow, but there was one way out there.
It was -- what I believe has -- happened at that time was the real -- the thick ice was grounded in front of Barrow by a strong west wind during the wintertime.
And that thick ice, once it grounded in front of Barrow, it pushed the lead further out.
So this -- because of the thickness of this ice when it piled up, it was further down. But it was strong enough not to budge when the other ice is pushing it from the west.
‘Cause it’s constantly is pushing from the west. That’s the way the ice was turning at that time.
It’s always turning like that. And it’s shearing. So it was at this location where there was enough water they were able to catch that one whale.
KAREN BREWSTER: So, is it unusual to have that happen where there’s no lead close to town?
RONALD BROWER: As far as I recall, that was the last time we had the lead that far out.
Since that time we’ve never had -- all the leads have been -- it’s been steadily close -- getting closer to the coast.
KAREN BREWSTER: There was a year -- what was that? Two or three years ago, where the lead didn’t open.
It was all that west wind, and they either didn’t get whales or they got them very late?
RONALD BROWER: Yeah. I don’t recall if they got any, but it was a very -- I don’t think they got out, and it was -- those were the kind of conditions that we were living back in ‘58. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.
RONALD BROWER: A similar event happened that long ago. But the ice was much thicker back then.
KAREN BREWSTER: Right. Yeah, that seems to be my understanding that year a couple of years ago where there was no lead, maybe the ice wasn’t thick enough to go thirty miles out, you know?
RONALD BROWER: Oh no, it's not thick enough. KAREN BREWSTER: I don't know. That -- that in ‘58 you could go out thirty miles, 'cause it was thick. Now, you can’t go that far. Is my question
RONALD BROWER: Yeah. No, the ice is too thin.
These days, the last time I went whaling about three years ago, the ice was only about eighteen inches thick and it's gotten thinner since then. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.
RONALD BROWER: Every year it’s been getting thinner.
So from 19 -- say from ‘58 when the ice was about twenty-five -- between ten feet to twenty-five feet thick, the ice today is only about eighteen inches or less.
KAREN BREWSTER: So that year you went out when you were nine years old, you went with other boys, right?
RONALD BROWER: No, I went with my Uncle Fred, my mom’s brother. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh. Okay.
RONALD BROWER: And his cousin, George Ungarook.
KAREN BREWSTER: So they were older?
RONALD BROWER: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, okay. RONALD BROWER: They’re eight years older than I am.
KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, okay. ‘Cause I was wondering what you had been taught before that about being safe on the ice. You know, to just send you with a dog team.
RONALD BROWER: The only stuff that I had learned about the ice comes from the stories told by elders.
So listening to elders talking about hunting on the ice, let’s say, I had learned that by the time I was nine listening to the elders talk about the ice conditions.
There's Mitiqtaun. Okomailak. Mitiqtaun would talk about the sea ice conditions. Okomailak would talk about the sea ice conditions, as well.
Our neighbor, Bruce Nukapigak, who was right across the street, lives across the street from us, he was also very knowledgeable about the sea ice.
Even though he was sort of a gruff kind of a person, that was just his nature. He was a kindhearted old man and he would talk about his ice experiences.
He lost his father to the sea when he was young.
KAREN BREWSTER: So he had drifted out? Is that what happened?
RONALD BROWER: He got crushed. In this case, they never knew what happened to him. He went out seal hunting and was never seen again.
KAREN BREWSTER: I wonder how common that was.
RONALD BROWER: Listening to the elder women talk, in those days before metal came around men were often lost to sea. It was quite common.
So there was -- it was common for women to lose a husband to the sea. And so they were prepared for that in that eventuality.
KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, well it’s a dangerous life.
RONALD BROWER: Oh, yeah. Most men of that time did not really live beyond the age of forty-five, mainly because such a harsh lifestyle that they had.
KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. Yeah. So that first time you went out, you went to go help butcher a whale and bring back shares? RONALD BROWER: Right.
KAREN BREWSTER: How old were you when you went to go to spend time at whale camp and go whaling?
RONALD BROWER: When I started going out whaling? KAREN BREWSTER: Hm-mm.
RONALD BROWER: When I was about -- I’d say when I was about ten years old I started to get into whaling with my dad.
And then my dad said that his brother, my Uncle Tom Brower, needed help. So I became Uncle Tom’s boyer. And so I grew up whaling with my Uncle Tom.
And then when I was about twelve, I was struck with rheumatic fever, which grounded me from hunting for a number of years.
Most of my -- my early -- Let’s see, seventh grade, eighth grade were spent mostly in -- not incarcerated. It felt like it!
KAREN BREWSTER: You were stuck at home?
RONALD BROWER: Yeah, I was bedridden in the hospital for one or two months. Couldn’t get up. Couldn’t move.
And the kind of treatment I was getting required additional thirty days in the hospital because they had come up with a new-fangled medicine called penicillin.
Very thick, gooey stuff with thick needles. And they’d give you so much, and it was very painful.
KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, I’m sure. You said you were a boyer. For people who don’t know, can you explain what a boyer does?
RONALD BROWER: As a boyer, I’m the general gofer. As a boyer, I was responsible for getting ice, bringing ice in, making sure that there was coffee, tea. Make sure all the pots and pans, eating utensils were cleaned.
Go up and get ice, go to the shore and bring food that the women were cooking, and I’d go up and get the food and bring it to the camp. And take my turns on the watch.
KAREN BREWSTER: So when you were on watch were you -- obviously, you were watching for whales. RONALD BROWER: Yes.
KAREN BREWSTER: But were you also watching the ice?
RONALD BROWER: We watched the ice, ice movement. We were looking at the current movement. We’re looking at the weather conditions.
We look at -- we study the clouds and the cloud types, and we looked at the sun and conditions and look at the -- what kind of weather is coming upon us.
So it wasn’t just learning about the ice. I learned about the different ice conditions.
But we also had to learn about the atmosphere, the weather, things that were affecting us.
We had to learn about the ocean currents. We had to measure how deep of water we’re standing on and stuff like that.
KAREN BREWSTER: Why does how deep -- why does it matter how deep it is?
RONALD BROWER: It matters because if you strike a whale, if you’re in -- once you get so far out from Barrow, you get into the deeper water over three hundred feet deep.
On the shore side, the water’s about three hundred -- about three hundred feet. So we use about three hundred feet of rope as a standard.
When we strike a whale it can sink straight to the bottom, but we still have the float up on top. And that way we can carefully pull the whale back up, taking the time to pull it back up slow and easy so we don’t lose it.
When you’re in the deeper water, if you strike a whale and it sinks or the current takes to it, it’s going to pull -- it’s going to take more than a thousand feet of line quite easily.
In those instances, we’ve added another line and a third one to that. That’s nine hundred feet of rope, trying to save the whale.
But once the current releases it, then it can -- it’s easy to pull up. It’s either that or we turn around and go with the current to bring the whale up to the surface.
If you go with the current, it’s much easier just to pull the whale up as you’re going with the current.
The problem is there’s a difference in the currents below and on the surface. When the currents below catch the whale, it’s taking it under, so your boat is going down.
And that’s the difference between hunting whale closer to the community, maybe three or four miles out, versus going any further out into the sea.
KAREN BREWSTER: You mean because the current at that three to four mile mark there's a difference between the current on one side versus the other?
RONALD BROWER: There is. This is where the two -- the shore currents are affected by the deep water. Sometimes the deep water is just shearing by, because it’s so -- it’s a different -- it even feels different.
It’s a colder water, but it’s faster. It’s moving like a river sometimes, just along that -- and then you can see where the water is, the currents are meeting.
'Cause where -- it yuayula -- going straight up and down. It’s like a brick wall when yuayula. It’s going up and it’s a dangerous place to be. It can sink a boat.
KAREN BREWSTER: And what’s going up? The water is going up?
RONALD BROWER: The water’s shooting up because of the pressure between the two currents. It’s like boiling water. It’s shooting straight up.
KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, that would be dangerous.
RONALD BROWER: And it’s like a wall. Sometimes I’ve seen that wall being maybe -- maybe two, three feet. But I’ve also seen it five, six feet wide. It’s dangerous to be in.
KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. And does that happen as you say so many miles out from shore?
RONALD BROWER: Yeah. It’s always in the same region.
What’s affecting it is the up -- bottom of the ocean, it seems to be. ‘Cause it’s a -- something is like -- something’s going by.
KAREN BREWSTER: It’s like an upwelling or -- ? RONALD BROWER: Yeah.
KAREN BREWSTER: Well, you know about the Barrow Canyon, right? RONALD BROWER: Well, I know now. KAREN BREWSTER Well, yeah. So I’m wondering if that -- ?
RONALD BROWER: Well, the people there knew about the deep water out here.
KAREN BREWSTER: Right. Well, that’s what I'm saying. You guys knew about the deep water, and now they call it -- the scientists call it the Barrow Canyon.
I’m wondering if that yuayula is happening around there?
RONALD BROWER: It’s happening mainly when the -- where getting two different currents. The shore current can be moving westward and the west current can be moving northward.
And where they meet out here in the ocean -- say if you’re out here, this out here is where you’re going to run into that.
It’s mainly you run into that not so much at -- past Point Barrow, but there’s a line that forms right across where that thing is happening. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. Okay.
RONALD BROWER: And then the other one is where the Beaufort Sea and the Chukchi Sea are meeting at Point Barrow.
There's another area where the same thing happens. And it goes way out.
KAREN BREWSTER: So that’s a farther out current?
RONALD BROWER: Un-huh. So this is where the two currents are coming together, where their butting each other, and so they’re going out.
And right there is where that water is also coming up. Not quite as strong as out here out in the deep sea where the water is pushing.
Here -- out here the water is going straight up like that. And it’s -- it can be two feet. I’ve seen it about three and a half feet high.
And it’s pretty -- it’s pretty common. I see it almost every year.
KAREN BREWSTER: What time of year do you see it?
RONALD BROWER: You can see it -- not so much in the winter where the ice is covering the water, but in the spring and in the summertime you see it. KAREN BREWSTER: Okay.
RONALD BROWER: You can see the clear delineation between the coastal water and the deep ocean water. KAREN BREWSTER: Okay.
RONALD BROWER: And there’s a temperature difference. Not much, but there’s a temperature difference.
KAREN BREWSTER: And is there a vis -- Is the water from one current to the next a different color?
RONALD BROWER: Yes, there is. Normally, the ocean si -- the deep side is a darker blue. The land side is a lighter blue. Yeah, or grayish or milky.
KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. Well, it makes sense the land side would have run-off from the river. You have sed -- maybe have more sediment?
RONALD BROWER: Yeah, maybe that’s the cause of it.
KAREN BREWSTER: Maybe? I don’t know. Now is there another current? Is there a third current?
RONALD BROWER: There’s one third current that is not so much over here, but, yeah, there is a third current once you get past Nuvuk.
Because out there we have a different kind of a current. It’s from the deep. Not so much like around Barrow. Well, it’s like on the west side of Barrow.
But on the east, on the Beaufort side, there’s the upwelling -- upswelling sent down come into. That’s moving in that -- toward the east -- toward the Canadian islands.
And it seems to be most common from -- Once you get past Point Barrow, that current is noticeable on the -- as you travel east. So it delineates deep water, as well.
KAREN BREWSTER: Then you were talking before about there’s also different current by depth. Right? RONALD BROWER: Yeah.
KAREN BREWSTER: How does that work?
RONALD BROWER: When we’re using our depth finder, we use a string, which we lower with a weight, and that string will move left or right depending on which way the current is going.
And as you’re feeding that into the ocean, maybe the current will suddenly swing your weight to the left. That means we have a current coming from the east.
And then you keep putting down, and all of a sudden it starts swinging to the other side. So we know there’s different currents flowing below us.
It’s the currents that have flowed on the top that we’re concerned with. But those upswelling currents are from the deep water, and they can -- they do affect some of the top water.
KAREN BREWSTER: Well, how does all that affect the ice?
RONALD BROWER: What it does is that it’s pushing the ice. The shore -- The ice where it’s happening, if it’s close to Barrow, the ice will be pushed eastward.
It’s pushing thick ice east very fast while the surface multi-year ice might be moving westward, but the icebergs will be moving eastward.
KAREN BREWSTER: Which current causes that?
RONALD BROWER: It’s the upswelling coming from the -- it’s moving eastward while the surface water is moving west.
The surface ice is moving westward and when that ice is moving westward, sometimes the ice -- The larger icebergs, we don’t see them as much as we used to.
The larger icebergs would just plow right through. And we’ve had to get off the way from that when we’re out on the edge of the sea ice or shore ice, ‘cause these big bergs would come floating by when we’re further out.
The big bergs seem to be happening out in the deeper water, not so much in the shallower water.
So we see them coming by, and when we’re out three, three and a half miles, that’s when we start encountering those larger icebergs.
But they’re not present anymore. What we’re seeing nowadays are -- they’re not -- they're more bluer. They’re more glacier ice than sea ice.
KAREN BREWSTER: So those big chunks, those were not the big -- what people call multi-year ice? It was different?
RONALD BROWER: It was different, yeah. These ones are different.
You can tell the sea ice from multi-year ice from glacier ice quite easy.
KAREN BREWSTER: And one of them is piqaluyak? RONALD BROWER: Piqaluyak. KAREN BREWSTER: Which is the piqaluyak?
RONALD BROWER: Piqaluyak is the -- considered the multi-year ice.
It can also be glacier ice which has melted into it -- and it’s -- mainly it’s a rounded surface on the top. Making rough, rounded surface.
And its bluish, no salt, so you know it’s piqaluyak.
KAREN BREWSTER: And it has no salt because it’s been around for a few years?
RONALD BROWER: It’s been around for a long time. The salt has drained out of it.
KAREN BREWSTER: Okay. I want to go back to what you just were talking about those big pieces moving in and the currents. 'Cause I got a little confused.
So the surface current goes from east to west -- ?
RONALD BROWER: Sometimes they’re going east to west. They’re always moving in different directions.
KAREN BREWSTER: Right. I’m trying to figure out which current brings those big pieces you were talking about moving around and coming in and you have to move.
RONALD BROWER: Oh, those are coming from the west.
KAREN BREWSTER: Okay. So that’s when there’s a current bringing them in from the west?
RONALD BROWER: Yeah. Bringing them in from the deep ocean. They're coming by the edge of the deep ocean.
KAREN BREWSTER: Okay. And is that the surface current moving them or something deeper?
RONALD BROWER: It’s something deeper moving them. KAREN BREWSTER: Okay.
RONALD BROWER: But the ice on -- There’s a big difference between those two. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.
RONALD BROWER: ‘Cause as I recall, one spring when we had -- back in -- when was it?
Back around 1963, I was out whaling with my Uncle Tom. After the spring whale was over, it was in June, July.
It wasn’t quite fall time yet, but nevertheless we went out because walrus were out. And we also brought our whaling gear.
We went out further than normal, down to get to the sea ice, and we were mainly -- we were caught in lots of slush ice.
And so we went through that and pushing bergs along off our way. We were moving westward.
And all of a sudden, we could see on the horizon what seemed like a point at first. A big white point getting closer, and it got pretty close to us really fast.
So Uncle Tom got his whaling equipment ready and said, “Watch out for that thing.”
We were on the shore side and that thing passed us. It was pushing all this ice, just clearing a path of ice. It was moving fast.
The surface -- the surface ice was not really moving much, but it was a lot. There was enough so that we had to push these icebergs off our way as we made our way through the ice, weaving through the icebergs.
And all of a sudden this ice came up. It was pushing all the ice back toward us.
At first, we were trying to get from being stove in, and then it went by. And it’s knocking off all these small pieces out of its way, and it just went by.
Once it cleared by, right behind it was all clear water. It was like a wake. The wake of that thing was pushing the water away.
So we got -- we just got caught by this whirl of its passing and got sucked to the back of it.
So Uncle Tom said, “Don’t start up that engine.” He got up and went to the front with his harpoon and was ready, and then he threw it.
That’s when we got that big whale. 1963. The jawbones are in front of Brower’s Café.
KAREN BREWSTER: Oh! Yeah, and that must have been -- yeah, June or July when there’s broken-up ice, where people go ugruk hunting and things, walrus hunting. Wow.
And so that big thing moving through, that was a big iceberg? RONALD BROWER: Yes, it was.
KAREN BREWSTER: Wow. Yeah, it was like -- The way you describe it, it sounds like a big icebreaker ship just clearing a path.
RONALD BROWER: It just -- it was -- it was -- it has to be glacier ice, ‘cause it was -- it was about a hundred, hundred fifty feet high.
KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, and it must’ve been the current below then, 'cause you said the surface current wasn’t --
RONALD BROWER: The surface ice wasn’t really moving. It was moving slowly westward, but this one just came plowing through.
So it was the outer currents, the deeper currents that were driving it.
KAREN BREWSTER: So when you’re out on the ice at the lead and you’re watching the current, you’re looking at the surface current? Is that what most affects the ice you’re on?
RONALD BROWER: We like to look at all of the current depend on the -- 'Cause the different currents down below can affect our whaling up on top.
KAREN BREWSTER: So what are you looking for? What’s a -- what's a current that might be dangerous? Or is it current and wind together?
RONALD BROWER: One of the things that’s dangerous for us on the ice is the currents that are just below the ice.
It’s more of the surface currents that are more dangerous to whalers than the lower, deeper currents.
The deeper currents are moving the ice -- the large icebergs and the large ice masses around.
Whereas on the surface, those are not -- the smaller ice is not affected by that. It’s above it. It’s sitting above it.
The long icebergs are way down here and they’re just plowing right through.
KAREN BREWSTER: And that’s more dangerous for you guys?
RONALD BROWER: Not so more dangerous. It’s the surface water that’s more dangerous for us, because that’s the one that’s a lot warmer and it’s melting the ice from the bottom. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, okay.
RONALD BROWER: And when it starts melting, they can hear it tumbling along beneath. It’s time to get off the ice when it’s doing that.
KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, I’ve heard people talk about -- Yeah, standing at the lead and you see these pieces of ice come out, tumbling out from underneath.
RONALD BROWER: Yeah, uġialla Uġialla.
KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, I didn’t know how to pronounce it. Thank you.
RONALD BROWER: And when the -- when the siku uġialla, coming out from underneath. Big chunks of ice. That means it’s melting below us.
The temperature on top might be cold, maybe twenty below, ten below, but when the temperature -- water temperature is melting the ice, it’s warmer currents.
Mainly, this kind of current is coming in from the west. What do we call that? Piruġaġnaq. And so with those currents, the ice is being melted pretty rapidly.
I recall when we were out whaling a few years ago, my son, R2, was taking meat over to our next camp, and he went right through the ice.
Good thing he was carrying a stick with him, and that’s what saved him. We told him, “Make sure you carry a pana.”
He had his going across, and he just set the meat pot down and hang on, and “Help!” And we went over there and rushed to pull him out.
KAREN BREWSTER: So what kind of ice -- what happened? What kind of ice was he on?
RONALD BROWER: The ice we were on was average about of three, four feet.
But we’d been there about two weeks, and it had melted down where it was only a few inches thick. Where he went through was less than four inches.
KAREN BREWSTER: And he didn’t see that there was a hole there or -- ?
RONALD BROWER: There was no sign of a hole. There was a path there, and the path, he just broke through the path. It melted from below. So we all had to get off the ice.
And as we were getting off the ice, we saw how dangerous it was, because our trail had melted in.
Charlie and Zach almost went under, but they pulled through. Zach was driving. He just speeded up over the water and Charlie was dragging on the sled, floating behind.
And we had to go around them in order to make it to safe ground.
KAREN BROWER: And was that -- Where Zach and Charlie were, was that a hole all the way through or it was just a puddle?
RONALD BROWER: It was ice we were traveling on that broke through. KAREN BREWSTER: So it went all the way down? RONALD BROWER: Yeah, all the way down.
KAREN BREWSTER: Because I know sometimes in the spring, you used to get -- like, the snow would melt on top and you’d get puddles, but it was ice still below.
RONALD BROWER: Oh, that’s a different kind. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, okay.
RONALD BROWER: When the water is snow melting, that’s fresh water on top.
But when it’s that water, that’s not the problem. It’s the water melting the ice from the bottom is the problem.
KAREN BREWSTER: How can you tell the difference when you approach a hole?
RONALD BROWER: It’s hard. You can tell the surface melt. That’s noticeable.
But it’s hard to tell from below what the ice condition is on the top. So --
KAREN BREWSTER: I was wondering if those kind of spots of water looked different. That you could look at it and go “Oh, that’s just a puddle. That’s surface water.” Or “Oh, no, that’s from the bottom.”
RONALD BROWER: Mm-hm. No, you can’t do that. KAREN BREWSTER: No, you can’t tell?
RONALD BROWER: No, there’s no way to tell. There’s no difference in that water.
It’s just the temp -- it’s just that the -- it’s moving or it’s not. It’s all clear. And, you know --
KAREN BREWSTER: Is there a color difference? RONALD BROWER: No. KAREN BREWSTER: No.
RONALD BROWER: I didn't -- We’re on top of ice. Water underneath, it just turns dark.
When the ice is turning gray, don’t walk on it. You’re going to fall through. Any kind of gray ice is dangerous ice. It’s thin ice. It’s not strong enough.
KAREN BREWSTER: And what’s the color of the stronger ice?
RONALD BROWER: It’s lighter. Light gray or white. Or, yeah, whitish. But if it’s gray ice, it's you’re on dangerous ice.
KAREN BREWSTER: What about kind of -- isn’t there sort of a blue, light bluish kind, too?
RONALD BROWER: Well, you see the light bluish ice only when -- when there’s water on it or, yeah, there is.
But that’s multi-year ice that’s got salt drained from it.
KAREN BREWSTER: Okay. That’s the piqaluyak. RONALD BROWER: Piqaluyak.
KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, okay. Have you been out on the ice and camped when you couldn’t get back. You know, there was a crack or you started drifting out? RONALD BROWER: Mm-hm.
KAREN BREWSTER: How did that happen?
RONALD BROWER: Oh, the ice broke behind us.
Some days when we’re out whaling, the weather is so nice and calm that it’s just so peaceful. You just enjoy it. And you’re being one with nature.
And in the meantime, somebody heard a crack or just a slight movement, like a bump on the table or something. That’s all -- that’s all that’s required.
That means the ice that you’re on is drifting. If you’re not watching your back. And if you’re drifting --
What we normally do is we take a compass and set it on the ice. Set its mark and we maintain watch. Those maintaining watch must also watch the compass.
If there’s a slight movement, it’s time to move. And the faster the better. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.
RONALD BROWER: Last time we were out drif -- we were drifting out to sea, the floe that we were on happened to bump onto the shorefast ice and part of it was going under that ice.
So that was the only place where we had a chance to make it to safety. So we went to where the ice was piling up, and right on the edge of it, maybe about wide as this table, was where it was going -- sliding under. And it was just wide enough for a snowmachine to go by.
KAREN BREWSTER: So which was sliding under, the -- What you were on?
RONALD BROWER: The piece that we were on -- KAREN BREWSTER: Was sliding under the shorefast? RONALD BROWER: -- was sliding under the shorefast ice. KAREN BREWSTER: Okay.
RONALD BROWER: And as it was sliding under, it was also buckling it down.
So it was breaking it off at -- Some parts of this would drag that down, and then water would fill up. A piece would move on.
Another flat spot would surface, come up. And soon as we hit that flat spot, that’s where we crossed. On that flat spot. KAREN BREWSTER: Wow!
RONALD BROWER: All the time, it’s piling up higher.
One big chunk, about high as this room, maybe, was coming down toward my sled because it -- when I went across I had two sleds I was pulling and my second sled hit the ice.
And so there I was on the other side. The ice is moving on this side and my sleds are caught. I'm in -- I'm in a -- a elbow.
So it was my machines on the other side and my sleds back here. I get off, run back there and get some help to push those sleds in the right direction to get them out.
KAREN BREWSTER: So you made it? RONALD BROWER: Yeah.
KAREN BREWSTER: Was that that -- ? Do you know a year that was? RONALD BROWER: Maybe ’97.
KAREN BREWSTER: It was that -- I was gonna -- There was that big break-off in ‘97 where lots of people drifted out. RONALD BROWER: Yeah.
KAREN BREWSTER: And they had to rescue people with helicopters.
RONALD BROWER: Mm-hm. That year I told Harry, “Look at the moon and look at the sun. Look at their positions. Something is going to happen here. Look at how calm the air is. Something’s happening. We should be getting off the ice.”
And no sooner had I said something like that to him than the ice shuddered. And it cracked all around. The ice just shattered.
And so we start packing up, and I got Baby Harry, and Arnold Junior and loaded them up with equipment and send them going to the shore.
Those two had stopped, “Oh, look! There’s water down there! Oh, wow!” “Get over that thing! I told them, “Get over that thing before it gets any wider.”
So they went acr -- took off, and I said, “Don’t stop for anymore. Don’t look around. Just get to the shore!” Off they went.
Next thing I know, as soon as they disappeared, we’re drifting ourselves. We’re heading toward another iceberg.
As we were getting -- so I got separated from my crew. They’re on another -- drifting on another piece of ice and there I was with a snowmachine.
I went down the trail, followed the trail toward the end and then I saw open water. And then I saw somebody hail me. I was pulling a boat.
So I had -- we had no choice. His snowmachine was on the other side of the ice. He had gone over to check his friend and so he lost his snowmachine on the other side.
He was drifting out to sea by himself. His friend had gone over with a snowmachine, you know, full blast and -- KAREN BREWSTER: Skimmed across? RONALD BROWER: -- skimmed across the water to safety.
So we took that boat and sled and all, and we shoved it into the water and left my machine.
And while I held onto the boat on the other side, he ran over and got his machine, brought it over and we pulled that up and moved toward the shore.
And then as we were moving toward the shore, we noticed that the wall of ice was split and there was -- one was moving the other was not.
And so we gauged, and then we saw just ahead was a trail. It was getting wider all the time.
So we saw that trail. So we backed up and just when the ice was coming toward that trail, we speeded up and we jumped and made it onto the -- jumped onto the trail.
The boat went flying over and followed us and we had a good landing on the other side.
And then from there we had -- we tracked down Harry Junior and R2, Arnold Junior, and then we found the safety camp was also be in danger and there was a bunch of crew sleeping in there. We had to disturb that crew. They were being so lazy.
I just tied their tent onto my sled and yanked it off and loaded their gear right into the boat right next and throw in everything. All their bags and whatnot.
Get them -- “What’s going on?” “Look at behind us, the ice is breaking up.”
So they got on their machines. We ended up pulling three boats and seven sleds to shore.
KAREN BREWSTER: Wow, so that place where you met that other guy and you went across, you put your boat in the water?
RONALD BROWER: No. I was pulling a boat and then I saw him. I was -- the trail had already split. And I was about maybe fifty feet of open water.
So I stopped and then the guy came running over to me. “Is my machines over there? Leave your machine and let’s take the boat and go across.”
I said, “Okay, let’s go.” So we just took the boat and ran with it, jumped in, paddled over to the other side.
He hopped out and I jumped out and held the boat. And he got his machine and we pulled it out.
KAREN BREWSTER: So you left your machine on the other side? RONALD BROWER: Yeah, my machine was one of those that were rescued. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, okay. RONALD BROWER: Yeah.
KAREN BREWSTER: Well, you’re lucky you had that boat to get across.
RONALD BROWER: Mm-hm. Several others lost their boats. We were fortunate.
KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. And fortunate no -- everybody got across or was rescued. No lives were lost.
RONALD BROWER: Yeah. Yeah. When that event was happening, I was telling the whalers, “Get off the ice! Get off the ice quickly.”
And couple guys older than me, “Aw, don’t worry. That was just a shake.”
“No way. That was not just a shake. I’ve been out here. I know these ice conditions. You guys should know it.”
“Oh. Well, don’t bother. This happens when we’re out. You've just been out seal hunting. You haven’t been out whaling in the deep ice then.”
“Get off the ice now.” “Don’t worry.” And that’s when all hell broke loose.
KAREN BREWSTER: And was it all of Bar -- Well, we should look at a map to see where exactly that happened.
Maybe that map? ‘Cause did it break off the whole way?
RONALD BROWER: It broke off out here, out on the sea. It broke out way out here when we were out by the open water.
Coming from Barrow toward the Point (Point Barrow), and it went past the Point.
KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, so it went pretty far. RONALD BROWER: Yeah, it went all the way.
KAREN BREWSTER: I thought maybe it didn’t affect all the crews. It only --
RONALD BROWER: It affected the whole region. It was, maybe, you’re looking at about -- pretty close to a hundred miles of ice that broke up.
It wasn’t just -- it wasn’t just the Barrow area. It was the entire front of Barrow. Maybe thirty, forty miles where all this ice shattered.
KAREN BREWSTER: Okay. I'm gonna change tape. RONALD BROWER: Okay.