from the Soper River

Jim Flosdorf


Canadians who love their Shield--
   To see it bare
Should venture to the Arctic
   And view it there.


Reflections on Having Returned from the Arctic

Land of stone, rock, and gravel
blackened by lichen,
People of Stone, Inukshuk, Inuit, stand
on the smooth stone hills and survey
us as we pass.

Hills of rust, ochre, grey, black, and white
where the wind sweeps unimpeded
and the sun relentless beats
with no shade or windbreak.

Caribou drift like shadows
across plateaus and watch,
press their timeless tracks
on the gravel table-land and the stone hills.

A chilly current sweeps across a rocky bed,
through gorges and rapids, and sparkles
under a clear blue sky like lapis, campanula--
but lours in the windswept rain and fog.

This land is easy to get lost in.
One loses scale, an inch is thirty feet, or miles.
The hills and ponds roll on--
and only the river flows to the sea.

Land of death, stone, and caribou bones
where somehow, something green clings
to a rock or crevice--
and graves are piles of rocks

at best.  Their journal in a woodstove,
land like this claimed Hornby, Adlard, and Christian,
lost Franklin and his men.  Al Purdy was here,
played piano*, and  lived, and Mowat?

Ice crystals crackle beneath my feet
on the way to lapis lazuli and mica,
and where the snow has just melted
winter still grips the tundra.
The crunch of lichens on the gravel table-land,
caribou droppings everywhere, antlers,
reindeer moss.  Bonsai outdone,
a garden at my feet, no higher than my shoes:

Arctic heather, arctic cotton, dwarf willow, and clumps of caribou hair,
arctic fireweed, avens, wintergreen, mouse-ear
chickweed, and lemmings scamper....
while overhead the falcon dives.

This land takes me back ten million years,
to life on Mars, or Europa, to the moon.
That life, its tender-toughness could cling
in the face of scouring winds, searing sun, and

planing ice, boggles the mind,
amazes my feet.



It is somehow appropriate
that I had to endure the pain
of an injured knee
while walking, paddling in this land--

knee frozen or numb against the icy
side of the canoe, kneeling.
And kneeling to gaze with awe
At the gardens of Lilliput.



In Quaker-like simplicity,
or Mennonite, or Doukhobor,
these hills move along the sky
planed down to the bare rock.

Black lichens paint the stones--
simple as an Amish farm
wagon; the life that's here
begins a minimalist food chain.
Birches and willows creep

on the tundra, driven down to
such humility by what Calvinist wind?
The People here five thousand years
pressed on with simple tools
of stone and caribou bone.

To love this land is to love simplicity
and minimalist art, Mondrian,
Japanese stone gardens, haiku,
moss campion, or a single chestnut, polished.

That cry of the falcon in the sky
over that hill is faint
when the wind is down,
but when the wind blows we huddle
like creeping birch among the rocks,
when it blows we all huddle
like creeping birch among the rocks.

 I cannot look upon these wooded hills

I cannot look upon these wooded hills
without seeing the bones beneath.
The inch-high trees of the Arctic
and the barren rock and stones
echo large down here beneath one-hundred-foot-tall
pines, and I become a midge
deep within the caribou moss
and willow catkins, pink among the rocks
beneath that lapis Arctic sky.


In Winter

Silence rings
in the shining white
and snow scrunches underfoot,

but when the wind swirls its knife
it roars among the darkened stones
and carves upon the ice.

In this long night
the sky leans close, waits
for aurora to draw the curtains.



    Into this bleak land
 has come television, bird
    dropping on a rock.


        The Dark Hills

The dark hills around Mt. Joy
still surround me, and the stone
ridges farther down river where
beyond the Livingstone
red ridges carve the sky--
there a great vacuity looms,
(an opening to the underworld surely)
where the curves of two hills meet.

From a distance the spot
could have been a mine
entrance, a great cavern in the hill,
but, closer, as the wings of myth beat
about its bleak entrance, souls like bats
seem to sweep in and out in the Arctic dusk;
dark curves recline against the rose sky
like coals dying in the ashes of a pyre.

But no Inuit professes knowledge
of this black mole on the side of the hill.
They only travel in winter, they say,
and snow sweeps across the ridges,
drifts on the slopes,
obscures whatever truth lies there
of mythic stones in darkened hills--
so they say.  So they say.

And when I asked about drums
I was told they never used them, yet
in Iqaluit I saw a great stone carving
of an Inuit drummer.  In Kimmirut the Anglicans
came in 1909 and built a church, and razed
the edifices in their minds, banned drums,
and myths and all except their own.
Banned all except their own.

 --  © Jim Flosdorf

* read Alfred Purdy, "When I sat down to Play the Piano," North of Summer.