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Apprenticeship for the Walking Life, a poem by Doris Lynch

Apprenticeship for the Walking Life
For Kristen

Did you learn to love to hike

on those long tundra walks when I carried 

you cocooned inside my parka, the one 

you wear now on polar vortex nights? 

We rambled over the frozen lagoon,

and then past the singing Wulik. 

Together, we traversed the hummocky 

waves of Alaska’s permafrosted tundra. 

Sometimes, I sang but mostly my Sorels 

sawed through the snow, a sound similar 

to tuning an old tuba. Nights came early,  

at two in the afternoon, a pale, ulu-shaped 

moon rose.  Riding abu, your world 

was primarily sound then: ptarmigans hurdled

into flight, a snowy owl mewed being chained 

to an old log, one that had ridden 

the sea currents all the way from Siberia. 

Now I walk the Griffy Lake trails, 

cross fallow fields, pace beside the endless 

railroad tracks. Car lights point and shoot, 

and once or twice a year, a pale aurora 

hangs over our subdivision. Sometimes snow 

floats down, sometimes moths bat against the light, 

and in spring magnolias shed your favorite blossoms.  

Keep walking, daughter, over the fallow flanks 

of your mountain college town, 

as far from me as these stars that sketch 

animal shapes across the night. Be comforted 

for the stars although distant burn bright and this same 

sky stretches over the arctic world, the world

you left behind before you realized you were 

learning to speak in two languages, English 

and Inupiaq. Before memory photographed

any of this for you: frazil, shuga, the aurora borealis, 

before you realized we were two 

separate beings going our own ways.  


abu: an Inupiaq word for carrying a baby on your back inside a parka for warmth.

ulu: a short-handed knife now made from old saws used by the Inupiat to cut frozen meat or fish.

Doris Lynch has recent poems in Frogpond, Tipton Poetry Journal, Contemporary Haibun Online, and Modern Haiku and in several anthologies. Finishing Line Press published her chapbook Praising Invisible Birds in 2008, and the Indiana Arts Commission awarded her three individual artist’s grants, two for poetry and one for fiction. She has lived in places as diverse as an Inupiat village in arctic Alaska, Yogyakarta, Indonesia, New Orleans, LA, Berkeley, CA and, for nearly thirty years, in Bloomington, IN.