The Discovery Channel recently ran a series, Frozen Planet, which featured detailed and closeup pictures of life at the North and South poles. From penguins to polar bears, walruses to crabs, the persistence of life under these extremely harsh conditions was beautifully displayed.
One episode focused on the life-style of humans who live at the extreme Northern areas of human habitation. (There are no areas of permanent human habitation in Antarctica.) I am not speaking about those scientists who spend years living at the poles studying various conditions – I am talking about people who live there permanently: the Inuits. And for me this episode raised a question: Why?
Let me give you a few examples:
In Siberia, the reindeer herdsmen have their homes built on sleds, and every few weeks when their flock has used up all the feed in a given area, they hitch the animals to the sleds and move to a new area. I realize shepherds have always had to drive their flocks to fresh grazing areas, but not when the temperature gets up to -20 degrees on a nice, warm summer day.
The herders and their flock enjoy a symbiotic relationship – the reindeer provide milk, clothing in the form of skins, and transportation; in return they get protection from wolves, predators, hordes of blood-sucking flies in the summer, and periodic fresh grazing grounds.
Other Inuits take to the sea for their livelihood. Imagine taking a small, flimsy boat out to harpoon a two-ton walrus, in water at 32 degrees and an air temperature of zero or less. At least these “modern” walrus hunters have acquired motors for their boats.
I know people crave delicacies, but these same people take it to the extreme. Imagine an underwater cave filled with delicious mussels. So far, so good, but this cave only appears above water twice each year at the equinox, and then only for a maximum of 30 minutes. They have to get in, grab all the mussels they can, and get out before the ocean comes roaring back.
When I lived on the farm, we had a small chicken coop, and managed to get a couple of eggs every day. We went into the coop, grabbed the eggs from the nests, and left. Simple. These people drop a man on a rope over the edge of a cliff, and the poor guy, the lightest one of the group, scrambles back and forth across the face of the cliff, taking eggs out of the nests of sea birds. He has to hope that none of his buddies has a grudge against him, because his life is dependent upon their holding the rope on which he dangles. It seems like a great incentive to gain weight, and let some other dude participate in the egg hunt next time.
These are a few of the activities which people above the Arctic circle have been performing for thousands of years. Again I ask: Why?