Camping Minus Stars
It’s May. Almost time to leave the Arctic, perhaps forever. We’ve been here since September. We can see brown again on the Delong Hills, not huge swathes, but brindled flanks like those on a calf. We ride on the backs of our friends’ snow machines; I, behind Randy, you clutching Alice, having left our two-year old daughter overnight for the first time. I feel a sense of freedom but also dismay—how the world pulls us apart.
We ride across the frozen lagoon, its watery surface, an old memory. Nearby, the rapids of the Wulik chortle. Against the snow, its open stretches look ebony.
Since September, this is the furthest we’ve traveled from Kivalina, an Inupiaq village on the Chukchi Sea. You could wander this tundra and the hills for days and see no one and no towns. The nearest village, Noatak, is eighty miles away over the mountains.
On the snow-covered tundra, we sleep in a tent next to a frozen creek. Although it’s still light at three AM, it’s the quietest night I’ve ever experienced.
The next morning I wake first and follow a hunters’ trail along the creek. Everywhere I peer the tundra appears empty, yet I don’t feel alone. This sensation grows yet each time I whirl around, I notice only a blue sky arched over a white world. Turning back towards camp, I round the first bend and discovered two sets of tracks.
meandering the frozen creek—
large tracks engulf small
The way back to the tents seems to take forever. I whistle, I sing, “Oh what a beautiful morning” then stutter over the second line, “everything’s going my way.” Each snow mound or hump draws my attention. But no animal leaps at me, no bear races after me. When I reach our twin tents, Randy and Alice lecture me about walking alone, “Maybe not the best idea on the tundra in spring.”
Later, as our engines putt-putt toward Randy and Alice’s house, where Alice’s sister, Laura babysits, I fear that my daughter will be crying and inconsolable because of our day and a half absence. When we enter, she runs away from me and wails when we carry her away.
wrapped in my parka
crossing the big snow hill—
Kris begs to return