I WENT SEAL HUNTING yesterday. At eight a.m., swaddled in caribou, I climbed into a canoe and headed out onto the freezing waters of the Hudson Bay with my Inuit guides and a camera crew. By three p.m., I was sitting cross-legged on a plastic-covered kitchen floor listening to Charlie, my host, his family, and a few tribal elders giggling with joy as they sliced and tore into a seal carcass, the raw meat, blubber, and brains of our just-killed catch. Grandma squealed with delight as Charlie cracked open the seal's skull, revealing its brains — quickly digging into the goo with her fingers. Junior sliced dutifully at a kidney. Mom generously slit open one of the eyeballs (the best part) and showed me how to suck out the interior as if working on an oversize Concord grape. From all sides, happy family members were busily dissecting the seal from different angles, each pausing intermittently to gobble a particularly tasty morsel. Soon, everyone's faces and hands were smeared with blood. The room was filled with smiles and good cheer in spite of the Night of the Living Dead overtones and the blood (lots of it) running across the plastic. A Bonanza rerun played silently on the TV set in the normal-looking family room adjacent as Mom cut off a piece of snout and whisker, instructing me to hold it by the thick, strawlike follicles and then suck and gnaw on the tiny kernel of pink buried in the leatherlike flesh. After a thorough sampling of raw seal brain, liver, kidney, rib section, and blubber, an elder crawled across the floor and retrieved a platter of frozen blackberries. She generously rolled a fistful of them around in the wet interior of the carcass, glazing them with blood and fat, before offering them to me. They were delicious.
Words fail me. Again and again. Or maybe it's me that fails the English language. My depiction of the day's rather extraordinary events is workmanlike enough, I guess…but, typically, I fall short. How to describe the feeling of closeness and intimacy in that otherwise ordinary-looking kitchen? The way the fifteen-year-old daughter and her eighty-five-year-old grandmother faced each other, nearly nose to nose, and began "throat singing," first warming up with simultaneous grunts and rapid breathing patterns, then singing, the tones and words coming from somewhere independent of their mouths, from somewhere…else? The sheer, unselfconscious glee (and pride) with which they tore apart that seal — how do I make that beautiful? The sight of Charlie, blood spread all across his face, dripping off his chin…Grandma, her legs splayed, rocking, rocking a crescent-shaped chopper across blubber, peeling off strips of black seal meat…How do I make them as sympathetic, as beautiful, in words as they were in reality?
"Without the seal, we would not be here," said Charlie. "We would not be alive." A true enough statement, but not an explanation. You'd have to have felt the cold up there, have seen it, hundreds and hundreds of miles without a single tree. You'd have to have gone out with Charlie, as I had, out onto that freezing bay, a body of water nearly the size of an ocean, watched him walk across a thin, tilting layer of ice to drag the seal back to the canoe. Heard, as we did, the resigned calls from other hunters over Charlie's radio, stuck out in a blizzard for the night, realizing they would have no shelter and no fire. You'd have to have been in that room.
From The Nasty Bits. Copyright (c) 2006 by Anthony Bourdain. Reprinted by permission of Bloomsbury USA.