They say that she heard things.
At Naalagiagvik, The Place Where You Go To Listen, she would
sit alone, in stillness. The wind across the tundra and the
little waves lapping on the shore told her secrets. Birds passing
overhead spoke to her in strange tongues.
She listened. And she heard. But she rarely spoke of these things.
She did not question them. This is the way it is for one who
She spent many days and nights alone, poised with the deep patience
of the hunter, her ears and her body attuned to everything around
her. Before the wind and the great sea, she took for herself
this discipline: always to listen.
She listened for the sound, like drums, of the earth stirring
in ancient sleep. She listened for the sound, like stone rain,
as rivers of caribou flooded the great plain. She listened,
in autumn, for the echo of the call of the last white swan.
She understood the languages of birds. In time, she learned
the quiet words of plants. Closing her eyes, she heard small
"I am uqpik. I am river willow. I am here."
"I am asiaq. I am blueberry. I am here."
The wind brought to her the voices of the land, voices speaking
the name of each place, carrying the memories of those who live
here now and those who have gone.
As she listened, she came to hear the breath of each placehow
the snow falls here, how the ice meltshow, when everything
is still, the air breathes. The drums of her ears throbbed with
the heartbeat of this place, a particular rhythm that can be
heard in no other place.
Often, she remembered the teaching of an old shaman, who spoke
of silam inuathe inhabiting spirit, the voice of the universe.
Silam inua speaks not through ordinary words, but through fire
and ice, sunshine and calm seas, the howling of wolves, and
the innocence of children, who understand nothing.
In her mind, she heard the words of the shaman, who said of
silam inua: "All we know is that it has a gentle voice
like a woman, a voice so fine and gentle that even children
cannot be afraid."
The heart of winter: She is listening.
Darkness envelops herheavy, luminous with aurora.
The mountains, in silhouette, stand silent. There is no wind.
The frozen air is transparent, smooth and brittle; it rings
like a knifeblade against bone. The sound of her breath, as
it freezes, is a soft murmuring, like cloth on cloth.
The muffled wingbeats of a snowy owl rise and fall, reverberating
down long corridors of dream, deep into the earth.
She stands, motionless, listening, to the resonant stillness.
Then, slowly, she draws a new breath. In a voice not her own,
yet somehow strangely familiar, she begins to sing. . .