4.09.2014

The Antarctic Cowboy has Returned...

But, I am cooking in the Arctic at Toolik Field Station, not Antarctica. Last year's chef gig on a small Russian vessel in Antarctica gave me the heebie jeebies about that southerly penguin wonderland. I've put the South Pole career back into freezer for the time being. When I left the port of Ushuaia, Argentina in January of 2013 I flew to New York, where I met my wife at the airport and we flew together to Hawaii to give the island lifestyle a try. After weeks of camping on beaches and job searching I landed a gig on the south shore of Kauai as a pastry chef. Months later our beautiful baby Rosa Kai Lee came to be. My whole life changed then. I couldn't handle the stress of the kitchen at the time and wanted to peek into a new career, something outdoors and new, and something that would feed my family directly and encourage an active lifestyle. Luckily, a local organic farmer was in need of an apprentice. I became his left hand and he taught me how to grow fancy lettuces, herbs, edible flowers, microgreens, bananas, avocados, cocoa trees, coffee and the list goes on. He taught me a lot more than market gardening and have confidence that if given one acre of healthy soil in a temperate or tropical envionment with fresh water available, I could co-create a homestead for my family. Organic farmers don't make much money often, but they sure do know how to live. 

Anyways, that's the past and here a new journey begins. From Hawaii to Ohio to Toronto to Anchorage, where I bartered my cooking skills for a bed while the TV peoples had their way with me. You can read all about that in the previous post. 


Three days ago I bid farewell to my host in Anchorage and flew to Fairbanks to take my food safety managers exam. I aced the test yesterday and this morning I jumped on a truck to go do what I am being called to do, cook for scientists in the Arctic.

If I could telepathically transfer my thoughts and feelings about doing this line of work, while being a new daddy and married the most beautiful and big hearted woman on Earth that's now 5,000 miles away from me, cyberspace and all the human neurons watching would go supernova. It brings tears to my eyes even just writing that and thankfully this room has a space heater so these tears of love won't freeze like they have been. I tried looking at the pictures of Hawaii to cheer me up, but it did just the opposite. Phrases of elders come to mind during emotional times... 'distance makes the heart grow fonder', 'what doesn't kill you makes you stronger', 'it is what it is', or simply put, as my grandfather told me, "you're following your heart to do what's best for your family in the long run and you'll be okay."

Ah. Deep breath. This is tough. I dream of a wood cabin, a small farm, a sustainable community around and an environment so pure that my daughter won't have to confront pollution, violence and excess materialization. I'm an Aquarius and this dream must be very sky high because I've spent the last couple years seeking and although I get close to actualizing that dream, like on the farm in Hawaii, the face of the dollar bill comes into play and the neighboring cultures everywhere I go seem confused as to which way they should go. We grow our own food, find water and get 'free' health care, but then how to pay for all the other expenses that crop up? Like... the costs of transportation, diapers, bottles, blankets, crib, car seat, phone calls, electricity, fishing rods, cooking knives, manure, candles, compost, seeds, boots, school, backpack, vinegar, medicine and all that basic stuff our lives depend on. Much less, to purchase natural and organic nowadays is more costly than buying mechanically processed and genetically modified. We could make our own candles, collect wild seeds, make cloth diapers, etc., but where is that knowledge being taught at? Where has that knowledge gone? Can someone please teach me how to chip flint into a nice knife? Wait a minute, I don't have the time to learn that because I am busy holding a job to make a paycheck to pay for all those things. What mother or father has the time to sew cloth diapers, change the diapers, feed the chickens, till the fields, feed ourselves and then have the money to pay to mortgage, electric bills and yada yada without pulling out a loan from a bank? Yes, it takes a tribe to raise a child, but, where have all the tribes gone to?

With every step in life there are an unlimited amount of lessons to be learned and only a completely open mind can see the art of natural survival. I define natural survival as all those nuggets of traditional knowledge and practices that have been passed down from generations before us, going all the way back to when homo sapiens came to be, that allow us to live in harmony with nature without the use of modern day technologies. Natural survival depends upon a trust and respect for nature.

To survive in this modern world, we rely on wheels. What's a wheel? What types of wheels are there? Can you build a wheel? Caveman learned to build a wheel and I've seen relics of stone wheels used in ancient civilizations in Mexico, Honduras, Belize and Peru. If you asked a freshman in high school to go out into the mountains and harvest a good stone and build a wheel or 'runner stone' for a gristmill to grind amaranth seeds for tonight's bread, they'd probably jump on their portable device and Google how to do it. Okay, well, that's a start. Thoughts need to turn to action. First you have to locate the proper stone and that probably is the knowledge of old school stonemasonry. Then, how to shape the stone using other stones? Making a wheel is not as easy as it seems. Ancient knowledge and wisdom needs to be resurrected and reintroduced into the average school curriculum, because the way I see it, if we can't teach our kids how to be self-sustainable and use the tools of nature, then we lose our creative, holistic selves and come to depend on machines or money to do the work for us.

My role in all this is to soak in every drop of traditional knowledge I can. When I cooked for bear hunters I learned how to hand skin a bear and salt the hide. When I farmed in Hawaii I learned how to sheet compost using nothing but natural ground cover to provide all the nutrients to soil and crops. When my truck broke I called the local mobile mechanic and instead of letting him do the dirty work, I got right in and under the car with him to teach myself. Here at an Arctic research station I'm ready to not only cook, but to learn more about this wild place. The scientists soon-to-be here will be accompanied by BBC film crews coming up to film this year to capture the life of the Arctic squirrel. These squirrels are unique because their body temperature go below freezing during it's winter hibernation, and then thaw and come back to life in the spring. Wow. Maybe the Eskimo have survived for thousands of years in the Arctic by watching how the squirrels migrate to their hibernaculum during winter. The old ones taught themselves by watching nature. Mother Earth is our blanket, our teacher, our pharmacy and our grocery. We can begin to respect and take care of her by opening up our minds and going out into nature, carrying our hearts and thanksgiving.

Ah, that's right, this is 2014. Maybe we've passed a multi-dimensional phase in human evolution where there is no going back to the 'old' ways. Climate change is evident, forests (lungs) are being cut down, 25 to 100 types animals go extinct each day and I foresee no stalling of all the mining and drilling that takes place to fuel societies material needs. Stay tuned because the drones are coming. Armchair science has just been kicked up a notch with these machines and I am curious to see how they are used to do field studies. What used to be explorers jumping on a hand-built wooden ship to sail the seas to study the globe turned into mechanized boats and underwater robots used to do the same job, and what used to be a mountain man climbing the highest peak to survey the land with a compass has been replaced with airplane and satellite mapping, which is now being transformed more so with the advent of unmanned aircraft and complex software. Ain't gonna have to face any of them grizzly bears if flying above them!

I don't want to be a downer, I just want to speak of what I observe and bring it to the surface. I hope that my child can experience all the natural wonders and tastes that my parents, and grandparents, have shared with me throughout my life. The reason I travel to exotic and far off places is to witness and share with the world traditional knowledge, so that decades down the road we have evidence of what was and what can be. One couple can live off one acre of land in Hawaii using simple machines and hand tools to grow 100% organic produce without the use of chemicals. And not only that, by selling to local restaurants they can make $110,000 to support their workers and local community, as well as pay for all the utility bills and taxes. I've seen it happen and I have a rough idea as do how to do it. It takes dedication and full commitment. If you leave the farm for just one week the wild will creep back in and act as if no human was ever there. The growing conundrum though is climate change and the speed at which invasive species travel the globe. One banana skipper can wipe out an entire farm of banana trees. One hurricane can setback all farm operations for at least 6 months. Thus, I feel it unwise to put all the piggies in one bank. Must keep all avenues open and be a jack of all trades, grow a variety of things, but keep your water resources tight, because water dictates everything on our blue planet. If I can't drink water out of a well, stream or tap without crazy filtration involved, then I'm moving on to some place I can. It's an inalienable right for life to be able to drink water straight from the Earth.

From Fairbanks north I ride. Here's one of the few stops along the way named Coldfoot.


Truckers transfer fuel and goods from Fairbanks to the North Slope along the notorious haul road. These guys and gals are the 'ice truckers'.


White spruce trees become smaller and patchy the further up you go.



After about 5 hours of driving there are no more trees, mostly rock and snow.



Our ascent up the Atigun pass, which leads us into the Brooks Range.





All along the way the pipeline follows the haul road.



The driveway to Toolik.


Here's my temporary residence for the summer.


A fresh room with a new mattress and space heater.


When the station population ramps up with college students, there will be lots of us using the backdoor.


Very little of the station is accessible. There's another month left before all this snow gets cleared and melts away. Summer will come quick and with a bank. The temperature right now is -25 F and two months from now it will be well into the 80s.


And then there were 12 of us. 4 guys take off on a 900-mile traverse to take lake sediment samples and ice cores tomorrow. 12 - 4 = 8 mouths to feed. So, for the next little while we will be keeping things on the low down. But, when summer comes, the users will come in truckloads.


This post has been from the heart, personal and philosophical, albeit I'm just here to cook and help feed my family. It's quite an odd state of affairs to be at the North Pole in order to make a living, especially when three months ago everything I needed to eat, drink and live off the land was in a 5-mile radius of me in Hawaii. As mentioned before, one can live off the land, it just gets complicated when the modern materialized world comes knocking at the door asking for a payment. My goal is to temporarily save what I can and then migrate once again, hopefully to a place that fulfills our dreams and feels like home. 

Over and out, Cody Lee.