Arctic Time

By Frank Keim


Old days drift slowly into new days

and the white eye of the Arctic sun rolls

bright across the night,

as we trek


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


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 - Pilar on Tuesday, 02 February 2021 15:39

Excellent poem! I felt like I was there. Thank you for sharing!

Excellent poem! I felt like I was there. Thank you for sharing!
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