Cabins of Barrow, Alaska

No 6

Few permanent structures change as dramatically with the seasons as the hunting shacks in Barrow, Alaska. The cabins are inhabited only in warmer months by indigenous Iñupiat tribes, who make them out of materials from a nearby decommissioned naval base: weathered plywood for walls, classroom chairs for patio furniture, and pieces of old rug and particle board for walkways over the spongy permafrost.

The Chukchi and Beaufort seas flow together here. For a long time, the Iñupiat have come to this spot in the warmer months to hunt eider and other migratory waterfowl. (The natural environment offers virtually nothing in the way of building materials; before the cabins, their hunting encampments were made up of much simpler structures.) Sometimes, the hunters bring their families, breaking the silence with the sounds of playing children and tempting passing polar bears with the caribou meat they've hung out dry.

In winter, the surroundings transform completely. Blanketed in snow, the cabins hug the landscape. There is no true daylight, only a dusk-like moment of gray skies, and between October and May, the temperature tends to stay below freezing. Now that more and more Iñupiat ride four-wheelers and snowmobiles, they often opt to return home to Barrow after a night or two out in hunting territory, rather than staying for days on end as they used to. As these cabins go unused, nature will start to reclaim the materials they're made of, just as the builders did in the first place.


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