Hulahula River Pingo

By Frank Keim

Cathy

We’re camped on the Hulahula River,

and after dinner

on a balmy night

five of us marched like caribou

single file

upriver

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

below.

 

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 gossiped

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,

the timeless

bubbling songs

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

playing nearby

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.

 

Meanwhile,

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

had arrived,

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.

                                                           

Hulahula River

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge


 

Hulahula River in the 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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Turning back is never easy, but sometimes the best...
 

Comments 35

Guest - Dorothy on Sunday, 21 November 2021 17:48

Beautifully written, with vivid images, thank you

Beautifully written, with vivid images, thank you
Guest - Dan Schmidt on Sunday, 21 November 2021 11:20

A lovely painted picture

A lovely painted picture
Guest - Kathy Gosselin (website) on Sunday, 21 November 2021 07:14

Please support this beautiful river.

Please support this beautiful river.
Guest - Maggie Frazier on Saturday, 20 November 2021 12:03

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.

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.
Guest - Kathy Day on Friday, 19 November 2021 17:38

Amazing. This makes me want to go!

Amazing. This makes me want to go!
Guest - Richard Creswell on Friday, 19 November 2021 07:45

Thanks for the implicit acknowledgement that wilderness includes indigenous people. Wilderness was formed by indigenous people's work.

Thanks for the implicit acknowledgement that wilderness includes indigenous people. Wilderness was formed by indigenous people's work.
Guest - Jen S on Friday, 19 November 2021 07:40

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.

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.
Guest - Karen Mary Ireland on Thursday, 18 November 2021 21:34

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.

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.
Guest - Harriet Greene on Thursday, 18 November 2021 21:05

You paint such clear pictures. Good storytelling. I was there.

You paint such clear pictures. Good storytelling. I was there.
Guest - L. A. Peders on Thursday, 18 November 2021 20:44

Are you married? If not, I think I'm in love!

Are you married? If not, I think I'm in love!
Guest - Phibby Venable on Thursday, 18 November 2021 16:03

Very beautiful...love how the past and present are linked by the senses

Very beautiful...love how the past and present are linked by the senses
Guest - Thomas H Small on Thursday, 18 November 2021 15:53

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.



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.
Guest - Sandra Weber on Thursday, 18 November 2021 15:20

Thank you for sharing this beautiful poem. Your descriptions made me feel like I was actually there.

Thank you for sharing this beautiful poem. Your descriptions made me feel like I was actually there.
Guest - Suzanne Scollon on Thursday, 18 November 2021 14:49

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.

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.
Guest - Pia L Loeper on Thursday, 18 November 2021 12:10

Beautiful and detailed description. I felt like I was there!

Beautiful and detailed description. I felt like I was there! :)
Guest - Gloria Picchetti on Thursday, 18 November 2021 11:59

Sometimes I get sad because I don't travel anymore but it's nice to read a beautiful poem about it.

Sometimes I get sad because I don't travel anymore but it's nice to read a beautiful poem about it.
Guest - Dianne on Thursday, 18 November 2021 11:21

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!

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!
Guest - Steven Gary on Thursday, 18 November 2021 11:17

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.

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.
Guest - Karmen Kinsey on Thursday, 18 November 2021 11:11

Beautiful!!!

Beautiful!!!
Guest - Barbara Parchim on Thursday, 18 November 2021 11:09

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.

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.
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Tuesday, 30 November 2021

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