By Frank Keim


We’re camped on the Hulahula River,

and after dinner

on a balmy night

five of us marched like caribou

single file


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 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.



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.



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