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Field Notes
Smith Sound Iceberg
Photograph by David McLain
David McLain

What was your best experience in the field covering this story?

On this assignment I was able to see and experience a way of life that probably won't be around much longer. The people I spent time with take their cues from things that a modern Westerner does not, which has been their way of living for thousands of years. Certain elements of their lives are modern, of course, but to experience their ancient collective wisdom firsthand was truly remarkable.

What was your worst experience in the field covering this story?

In the Arctic there are these big waves out at sea that can come in under the ice. You think of ice as a solid surface and, to a certain extent, it is. But when waves come in from the ocean, a whole sheet of ice would roll like water. It's very dangerous. One day we had to make a run for it because the whole sheet of ice was behaving like waves. It was the only time I actually saw the hunters really get serious, and these are guys who didn't worry much.

What was your quirkiest experience in the field covering this story?

On the second or third day of the assignment, I was still in the stage of getting to know the hunters I was staying with. We weren't necessarily awkward, just cautious. One of the hunters was bent over and groaning, and he started to wave me over to him, pointing to his nose. He was motioning at it as if it hurt. I didn't know what I was supposed to do. But he kept groaning and waving me over, and finally I went over to him and touched his nose. The minute I did it, he let out a gigantic fart and all the other hunters erupted into laughter. These guys have a tremendous sense of humor. They are complex and deep people, but laughter is a key part of their survival. Even in some of the most dangerous situations, they were laughing.

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