Spirit Walking in the Tundra

I am very grateful my parents chose to take us on camping trips across the United States for our summer family vacations, specifically selecting National Parks to camp in.  Actually camping in the Parks was key to the whole experience.  Our first camper was a King camper, which was an aluminum trailer with a canvas covered framework that unfolded to form the top half when we stopped at the campsite.  Being in the woods, hearing the sounds of the wind and wildlife and the glacier streams rush over the boulders, feeling the cold at night, and smelling the pine trees made the experience so much better than traveling into the park during the day and returning to a motel at night.

Hiking through the meadows and forests and upon mountainsides with countless, stunning vistas, were life changing experiences for me.  I was overwhelmed by the intense beauty.  Rocky Mountain National Park was our favorite, and we returned there time and again as we were growing up. We quickly found that not many people traveled too far from the parking areas, and with even a short hike we were practically alone in the woods.  Hikes of just a mile or two brought us to lakes, canyons, waterfalls, cliffs, meadows, snowfields, boulder fields, and rock walls to climb. Places we were able to appreciate alone.

I hadn’t reflected much on why we sought opportunities to be by ourselves in the mountains. It just seemed a much better experience that way. Now I think it was related to feeling closer to God when we were deep in the quiet of the forests. Having grown up in Quaker communities, I was used to worshiping in silence, as we do so we can hear the whisper of the Spirit. Being enveloped in the silence of the mountains was a natural extension of Quaker worship.

Spirit Walking in the Tundra

All the way to Nome, I trace the shadow of the plane as it walks Over turquoise lakes made by late spring breakup Of the Bering Sea. The plane is so heavy with cargo load it vibrates our bones. Like the pressure made by light cracking ice.

Below I see pockets of marrow where seabirds nest. Mothers are so protective they will dive humans. I walk from the tarmac and am met by an old friend. We drive to the launching place And see walrus hunters set out toward the sea. We swing to the summer camps where seal hangs on drying frames. She takes me home. I watch her son play video games on break from the university.

This is what it feels like, says her son, as we walk up tundra, Toward a herd of musk ox, when you spirit walk. There is a shaking, and then you are in mystery.

Little purple flowers come up from the permafrost. A newborn musk ox staggers around its mother’s legs.

I smell the approach of someone with clean thoughts. She is wearing designs like flowers, and a fur of ice. She carries a basket and digging implements. Her smell is sweet like blossoms coming up through the snow. The spirit of the tundra stands with us, and we collect sunlight together, We are refreshed by small winds.

We do not need history in books to tell us who we are Or where we come from, I remind him. Up here, we are near the opening in the Earth’s head, the place where the spirit leaves and returns. Up here, the edge between life and death is thinner than dried animal bladder.

(FOR ANUQSRAAQ AND QITUVITUAQ) NOME, ALASKA, 2011

Harjo, Joy. Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings: Poems (pp. 34-35). W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Edition.

Photos: Jeff Kisling

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