National Geographic : 1969 Apr
" IVIK!" shouted the Eskimo from the bow of our skin boat. "Walrus!" Be hind me, John Iyapana chopped the out board motor and flipped his cigarette into the sea. Squinting, I scanned the white horizon. We were seven: six Eskimos from Little Diomede Island and myself. For two days we had hunted the open water among the ice floes here in the middle of the Bering Strait. Twenty miles to the east stretched the gray outline of Cape Prince of Wales, westernmost reach of the North American Continent. To our west I could make out the snow-covered hills of Siberia (map, page 548). A hundred yards ahead of us were the wal ruses, dozing in the sun on a crumpled slab of sea ice: two bulls, maybe a dozen females. We coasted silently toward the herd, leveling six rifles-and one camera. Crack! Frank Kayouktuk fired the first shot. The nearest giant went down. Another made for the safety of the sea, but was stopped by a well-aimed bullet. Two more were hit as they splashed into the water. We paddled hard to lasso them before they sank. "Watch 'em!" John shouted. "They're mad!" Suddenly one of the bulls charged straight for our walrus-skin boat. We tipped sharply as the hunters leaned to fire. Instinctively I scrambled to the high side. To my horror the other bull surfaced not 20 feet away, spouting blood and anger. I shouted a warning, but the others were too busy fending off the first walrus with paddles and rifle butts. Water spurted in through a stray bullet hole just below the gunwale. I dropped my camera and dug furiously under my parka for my .44 magnum revolver. Leveling it with both hands, I fired three deafening shots. The monster rolled belly up a few feet from the boat. Still shaking, I helped John hook a line around a flipper. It took all seven of us to drag the beast onto the ice; it was 12 feet long and weighed easily a ton. John hurried us along with the butchering (pages 544-5). "The ice pack is moving," he said. "Five miles an hour anyway." Startled, I checked our bearings. Before the shooting I had noticed Fairway Rock, an islet in the middle of the strait. It had been only a mile or so east of us. Now it lay south-and nearly out of sight. How could that be? There wasn't a breath of wind; the water between the floes was glassy. "You don't feel the wind because the whole ice pack is moving along with it," John ex 542 plained. Hunters had sometimes been carried far out to sea. A few had never come back. Quickly we finished, loading the tusks and skins into the boat. The meat caches back on Little Diomede were already full, so the Eski mos saved only the tastiest morsels. These included the hearts, the livers, and best of all - so they insist-the stomachs, full of half digested clams. John passed me a handful as we climbed back into the boat. "A good hunter deserves a treat," he said, smiling at my squeamish expression. "And these clams are best while they're still warm." A poor Eskimo I'd make, I thought as we churned back toward Diomede. I could relish the adventure of their hunt-but I'd never survive their feasts. Slowly the island of Little Diomede took shape, a bleak mound two miles long and a quarter of a mile high.* Soon the echo of our outboard was flushing swarms of auklets and murres from their cliffside rookeries. As we rounded the island's southern flank, another, larger piece of land loomed into view. Soviet Russia's easternmost rampart, Ostrov Rat manova-Big Diomede, as we call it-stood less than two and a half miles away. "The Eskimos on Big Diomede were our friends," John said. "Often I visited the island as a boy. But in 1948 the Russians arrested a boatload of visitors from our village and held them prisoners for almost two months. "That was our last contact with the island. Now it's a military base. The Eskimos there were taken away-we don't know where." Between these two estranged islands runs the Date Line. Big Diomede is not only in another country, but in another day. On a clear day you can see tomorrow! Carvers Multiply Ivory's Value "Kayakoi!" shouted the cluster of parka clad children on shore. "Boat coming!" Half the village turned out to help us haul the skin boat up onto the boulder beach and unload the tusks and hides. Ignaluk is Little Diomede's only village, a jumble of wooden huts propped with stilts-home for some 80 citizens. We walked up stone steps, shored with the giant ribs of whales, past the school and the new prefab hospital to John's house. He led me through the rock-lined tunnel en trance, and we popped through a trap door into the center of the single main room. A small skylight in the ceiling was the only win dow; a seal-oil lamp provided heat. John's *See "Alaska's Russian Frontier: Little Diomede," by Audrey and Frank Morgan, GEOGRAPHIC, April 1951.