Arctic Time

By Frank Keim

Cathy

Old days drift slowly into new days

and the white eye of the Arctic sun rolls

bright across the night,

as we trek

south

up the Hulahula River,

named more than a century ago

by Hawaiian whalers stranded

on an ocean cold and frozen

before its time.

 

We stop at vestiges

of ancient Eskimo camps

where the only traces are

oil lamps made of pecked stone

and circles of rocks

where skin tents once perched.

We climb over tall rocky passes seen by few

in this harsh land

where musk oxen and caribou wander free

from man’s confining designs,

and so do we.

There’s no time in this wild place,

only the wind turning willow leaves white,

and water bouncing and

curling over primordial rocks

that gravity pulls

inexorably seaward

down

the rivers,

helping carve the steep valley we’re in now.

A Gyrfalcon cruises alone

above rough limestone crags,

searching for unwary parky squirrels

that chatter 

at our uninvited presence.

Wild sheep speckle sharp-angled slopes,  

staying high with their capering lambs,

ready to flee the prowling hunger

of loping wolves

and the hairy hulk of grizzlies

ever watchful for an easy meal.

The verge of snow ridges and cirques

severs the earth

from the blue midnight sky

where the sun dances across the horizon,

flicking light from the flowers of avens

tilting yellow and white in the blowing breeze

in this high Arctic valley of our refuge.

Time has no meaning here as it slides into itself,

moment into moment,

day into sunlit night,

into misty mornings

and scintillant afternoons

that fly endlessly

like the birds that fill them with endless life

for us here

on the Hulahula.

                                                           

Hulahula River

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge


 

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge


Frank is an educator, nature writer and environmental activist. He worked for two years as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Bolivia, as an anthropologist in Ecuador for four years, and as a secondary school teacher of Yup’ik Eskimos in Alaska’s Lower Yukon Delta for 21 years. He has published three poetry books,
Voices on the Wind (2011), Today I Caught Your Spirit (2014), and Trails Taken…so many still to take… (2018). In 2012 he published White Water Blue, Paddling and Trekking Alaska’s Wild Rivers and in 2020 he published Down Alaska's Wild Rivers. He lives north of Fairbanks, Alaska.

 

 

Editor's notes:

“Wilderness Experienced” is our shared stories and musings about recent experiences in our nation's Wildernesses. Stories focus on the virtues of Wilderness and/or challenges facing the National Wilderness Preservation System. We want to hear your story! Learn more and submit a story.

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Comments 61

Guest - Reba Reiser on Friday, 12 February 2021 14:29

Great poem, thank you for continuing to care the way you seen to have always done.

Great poem, thank you for continuing to care the way you seen to have always done.
Guest - John Lyle on Thursday, 11 February 2021 10:37

Frank, thank you for sharing this poem. As I sit here reading it, looking out the window at Mauna Loa covered with new snow, I can picture the scene; picture the Hawaiians who named that special place so long ago.

Frank, thank you for sharing this poem. As I sit here reading it, looking out the window at Mauna Loa covered with new snow, I can picture the scene; picture the Hawaiians who named that special place so long ago.
Guest - Catherine Johnson on Monday, 08 February 2021 15:28

How beautiful!

How beautiful!
Guest - Janice Shaw (website) on Saturday, 06 February 2021 00:14

At 88 my life has turned upside down. So at my bedtime I reread your poem & put aside the fragmented day. I’m a winter person who has spent many days in the mountains as my husband has. Who is now in another room with a caretaker. Thank you & bless you. I hope I can find your books & poems for further enjoyment

At 88 my life has turned upside down. So at my bedtime I reread your poem & put aside the fragmented day. I’m a winter person who has spent many days in the mountains as my husband has. Who is now in another room with a caretaker. Thank you & bless you. I hope I can find your books & poems for further enjoyment
Guest - Bernie Krause (website) on Friday, 05 February 2021 09:40

Beautifully written, Frank. Evokes lots of life-affirming memories for which we thank you!

Beautifully written, Frank. Evokes lots of life-affirming memories for which we thank you!
Guest - Dave Potter on Thursday, 04 February 2021 09:20

Superb! Such a moving word picture. I saw the ocean arctic [Coast Guard polar icebreaker, three patrols in the arctic] and this poem brings back memories.

Superb! Such a moving word picture. I saw the ocean arctic [Coast Guard polar icebreaker, three patrols in the arctic] and this poem brings back memories.
Guest - Renate Faber on Thursday, 04 February 2021 06:52

Time has no meaning here as it slides into itself, . . .

beautiful. . .

Time has no meaning here as it slides into itself, . . . beautiful. . .
Guest - Robin Blakesley on Wednesday, 03 February 2021 18:20

Just beautiful. I could picture it all, reading it.

Just beautiful. I could picture it all, reading it.
Guest - Audrey Farrelly on Wednesday, 03 February 2021 17:41

‘and the white eye of the Arctic sun rolls
bright across the night’

Incredible, beautiful, exquisite ❤️

‘and the white eye of the Arctic sun rolls bright across the night’ Incredible, beautiful, exquisite ❤️
Guest - Debra Wilson on Wednesday, 03 February 2021 15:31

What a magnificent poem! It's like a painting, so visual.
It brought tears to my eyes.
It reminded me of the week I spent in Alaska in summer 2007.
And so much more.

You're amazing, Frank!
Very creative and full of soul.
Thanks for all that you do and all that you've done.

What a magnificent poem! It's like a painting, so visual. It brought tears to my eyes. It reminded me of the week I spent in Alaska in summer 2007. And so much more. You're amazing, Frank! Very creative and full of soul. Thanks for all that you do and all that you've done.
Guest - Bonnye Reed Fry on Wednesday, 03 February 2021 14:34

Thanks for Sharing!

Thanks for Sharing!
Guest - Rita Gehrke on Wednesday, 03 February 2021 13:42

That's a beautiful poem celebrating nature. Thank you, Frank Nature must always be protected for us and generations to come.

That's a beautiful poem celebrating nature. Thank you, Frank Nature must always be protected for us and generations to come.
Guest - Victoria Hall on Wednesday, 03 February 2021 13:23

Very beautiful and so special as it helped to bring the beauty of the artic so I could see it in Frank's poem. We have been given such a gift with our parks and environment. I pray that we can take care of them for the future. It is such a gift to have the ability to express in words so others can share the same special places where time stands still.

Very beautiful and so special as it helped to bring the beauty of the artic so I could see it in Frank's poem. We have been given such a gift with our parks and environment. I pray that we can take care of them for the future. It is such a gift to have the ability to express in words so others can share the same special places where time stands still.
Guest - Lisa Garner on Wednesday, 03 February 2021 11:14

Just really beautiful, like being there. I love it!

Just really beautiful, like being there. I love it!
Guest - Brian Bari on Wednesday, 03 February 2021 10:39

Beautiful Frank! Thank you. You brought me there.

Beautiful Frank! Thank you. You brought me there.
Guest - Sandra Shields Herzstein on Wednesday, 03 February 2021 10:36

I want to thank you for sending this poem by Frank Keim. It is beautiful, invigorating, and uplifting. I enjoyed it immensely. My hat is off to Frank, and hope that he will continue to write his delicate prose. Do give him my regards.

I want to thank you for sending this poem by Frank Keim. It is beautiful, invigorating, and uplifting. I enjoyed it immensely. My hat is off to Frank, and hope that he will continue to write his delicate prose. Do give him my regards.
Guest - Frank Keim on Wednesday, 03 February 2021 10:33

Wow. These remarks made me so happy. This is a first time experience for me. Thank you so much for sharing this poem with so many others. I am now more convinced than ever that one poem can sometimes reach deep into one's spirit more than an entire book of prose.

Wow. These remarks made me so happy. This is a first time experience for me. Thank you so much for sharing this poem with so many others. I am now more convinced than ever that one poem can sometimes reach deep into one's spirit more than an entire book of prose.
Guest - Elizabeth Guzynski on Wednesday, 03 February 2021 09:27

Your beautiful poem was so easy to read and understand that I felt like I was with you on the trip! Thank you so much. I loved it!

Your beautiful poem was so easy to read and understand that I felt like I was with you on the trip! Thank you so much. I loved it!
Guest - Sukey Barnhart on Wednesday, 03 February 2021 09:15

Thank you so much for this lovely poem. Reading it lifted me out of a low place as we all struggle with these times. It's very beautiful.

Thank you so much for this lovely poem. Reading it lifted me out of a low place as we all struggle with these times. It's very beautiful.
Guest - Emily Manning on Wednesday, 03 February 2021 09:03

I love your poem. I am 82 but 38 yrs ago. I am too old now but back then during the month of Feb. I flew to Ak to hike from Juneau to Mendenhall Glacier from Douglas Island where I was visiting & explore. We hopped a freighter for 5 cents to travel down the islands to Sitka & slept in a hollowed out log falling asleep to the swoosh of waves near us with a huge moon. While hopping off briefly to stand on other islands we spent the night on the ship deck where ice was about 15 to 24 or more inches thick, found a melted ice space my body would fit into w/o rolling out thru the roping into the sea, the ship rocked me to sleep with the wind howling looking up at the stars. Before leaving we climbed Mt Roberts to the top to the ice fields but did not have proper ice soles so I laid in the snow by the statue which moves in the wind and I leaned on almost to my demize (sp) & made snow angels in the snow for my Xmas cards. Also above the tree line coming down I accidentally fell about 5 switch backs before a root sticking out held when I grabbed it & my butt caught on a rocky 6 in ledge edge. My guardian angels were holding me I know. One of a few great adventures of my life.

I love your poem. I am 82 but 38 yrs ago. I am too old now but back then during the month of Feb. I flew to Ak to hike from Juneau to Mendenhall Glacier from Douglas Island where I was visiting & explore. We hopped a freighter for 5 cents to travel down the islands to Sitka & slept in a hollowed out log falling asleep to the swoosh of waves near us with a huge moon. While hopping off briefly to stand on other islands we spent the night on the ship deck where ice was about 15 to 24 or more inches thick, found a melted ice space my body would fit into w/o rolling out thru the roping into the sea, the ship rocked me to sleep with the wind howling looking up at the stars. Before leaving we climbed Mt Roberts to the top to the ice fields but did not have proper ice soles so I laid in the snow by the statue which moves in the wind and I leaned on almost to my demize (sp) & made snow angels in the snow for my Xmas cards. Also above the tree line coming down I accidentally fell about 5 switch backs before a root sticking out held when I grabbed it & my butt caught on a rocky 6 in ledge edge. My guardian angels were holding me I know. One of a few great adventures of my life.
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