By Frank Keim
We’re camped on the Hulahula River,
and after dinner
on a balmy night
five of us marched like caribou
along a narrow animal trail
to a tall pingo
sculpted long ago from ancient ice melt,
and there we sat
on its blunt rim,
peering into a black clearwater pond
The mirror of the little lake
shimmered in the slanting rays
of the Arctic sun,
and we wondered
about the Inupiat hunters
who had once sat here, too,
over so many hundreds of years,
watching and waiting for the caribou,
patiently hoping to see them
in their slow ambling and feeding
up or down the Hulahula Valley.
As they waited,
these Inupiat men bantered
and chipped flakes from a stone core
for their stone-tipped arrows and spears.
We sit here now,
holding one of those stone cores,
trying to imagine how it was for them
who lived lives so much harder than our own.
While they worked they surely heard,
as we do,
of Upland sandpipers
in tundra still brown from the long winter snows,
or the haunting winnows of the snipe overhead
as he undulates up and down
in the pellucid blue Arctic sky.
Maybe their children
picked the mountain avens
and tossed their white petals
into the wind,
watching them land
and float like little boats on the black water
toward the other shore.
Their shamans just as surely listened to the Ravens
to predict the movements of the caribou,
to know if luck was with them,
or whether the people had to pick up stakes
and walk to the coast
to hunt for seals there.
Because for them meat was survival.
as they waited,
they probably ate the ancestors
of the parky squirrels now living on the rim
of this cratered pingo.
They also must have watched the Mew gulls
cruising above the river,
studying them for signs
the Arctic char
salivating at the thought of fresh fish
and full stomachs.
And much more
in our own wild imaginings
out here on this pingo crater
on the Hulahula River,
as we muse about the past,
near and far,
and speak about how it might be
in the future.
Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
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Beautiful - makes me feel as tho I was right there with you. And as someone else commented - how great it must have been "before there were so many of US".
I hope you make many more visits to these wonderful areas.
Thanks for the implicit acknowledgement that wilderness includes indigenous people. Wilderness was formed by indigenous people's work.
Thank you so much!! I was fortunate enough to visit twice in my life. It's such a peaceful, beautiful place and I hope and pray that it stays that way.
Beautiful poem. There is a hill in SE Oregon above a hot springs where we have sat, picking up obsidian shards from the old days, waiting for and watching as the broomtails worked their way up the stream, eating grasses. The obsidian, which comes from Glass Butte about 100 miles away, says the natives sat there too, waiting for game.
I have read a very beautiful poem about Yup’ik Eskimos in Alaska’s Lower Yukon Delta. i am very impressed Mr. Frank Kelm. You must really enjoy living in the cold natural weather up in Alaska in the Hulahula River area which is near the "Arctic National Wildlife Refuge". I saw the picture of the river it and it appears to be a very beautiful part of the USA.
Frank, thank you for this wonderful poem! My daughter was a friend and classmate of Avelina. Wonder where she is now? One of my greatest adventures was a caribou hunt out of Arctic Village with my husband Ron and my kid brother Clinton in 1972. It was the first kill of the season.
I looked on Wikipedia to find out what a pingo is. Very interesting. Then I made a donation to Wikipedia. I came back to this e-mail from Wilderness Watch, which I enjoyed reading and viewing, and made a donation. Keep up the good work!
Thank you for wondering, wondering how it was... My wife and I floated the Kongakut River last June and I have never felt so wild in my heart as I did on that trip. We were fortunate to witness on our last day about 30,000 caribou pass through our camp along with wolves, and brown bears hunting them as they crossed the river heading to the Yukon. It took all day. The drama was spectacular. WE must protect this wilderness forever from any development. Even lightly visiting I was aware of my impact. No place on earth is like it.
Beautiful images. I often think of how things might have been for the indigenous people in the past when I'm out in wilderness - before there were so many of us. Thank you.