Lazily the wind crept across the frigid wasteland creating another intolerable level of frozenness. I sat, frozen, too, like the world around me, wrapped in the furs of slain creatures that were once fearsome to witness. This place, I decided, is a cruel beautya savage horror to bear but so bold and magnificent, too.
I am a noble beast for living in this bleak whiteness. Surviving is merely a way of life, and it is the life I live best by. Killing the wintry creatures, making shelter before the storm, chopping through miles of ice just to see sunshine on the other sidethese are the things that run deep in my veins. To outsiders, I am just a specka blemish, in facton the starkness of the blizzard countrlyands, but the inhabitants of this desolate, forgotten place know me to be quick and deadly. To them, the natives, I am the overlord for I alone control their fate with the mere twist of a knife, the twitch of an arrow, or the terror of my hands. Yes, I am a beast, but I am not cruel like this land can be. I only take what I need and my fellow beasts realize thisthey kindly offer their pelts, their flesh, and their homes to.
When the hunt is done and it is time for sleep, though, I find myself wide awake and not a beast at all. A thoughtyes, a thoughtenters my head and soon many more follow. Memories of the tender moments I've had rush at me like I rush into the storm. I feel attacked and grow weak as these memories assail and bombard me; I raise my hands to protect myself, but my enemy is within and not without. Quickly, these memories embitter me and I become sullenfor all the power I show, for all the strength I have, I am reduced to frightened child in the face of my memories. Once this place was beautiful to me; once this place made me feel alive, but last winter I have been turned into the thing that no beast can overcome with brutish coercion: I am alone.
In the distant mountains there is a path that leads to the top of the smallest of them. On the top you know you are not above the world because of the looming, frosty cliffs around you; but when you look down and see the shimmering expanse laid out in such a pristine manner it seems like it's just for you, and you can't help but feel as if you're above it all.
The first time I witness this awe-inspiring sight, I fell to my knees and wept like a childand I was one. My father smiled at me as he watched me weep because he knew that I could feel in my heart how incredible this place was. I felt in tune with everything below, and it seemed as if it were something special meant only for me. The howl of the wolf chief tickled my ears, the splashing of fish in the streams caressed my face, the yawning of the lazy tundracat wiped my tears, and the pulse of the sun said to me, "You are home," and I believed it. This was where I belonged and this wwas where all the loose ends of life connected within me. And who would've thought it would be in this miserable but electrifying span of wilderness?
Before last winter, my father helped me breathe life from everything all around. He taught me to be a beast of a hunter, but he taught me how to care for the beasts, too. He showed me how to skin a catch and all of those other survival skills I so desperately rely on now. I didn't then, though, and perhaps it was because my father was there to teach the lesson of the companionship I have with the frozen nature that made me live.
There were stories, and dances, and songs, and traditions that my father shared with me that breathed existence within me, too. Once a week we would take our best kill to the top of that slight, forgettable mountain and build a bonfire to roast it. As night fast approached my father would howl the wolf howl into the shadowy night, which I once feared but no loved for its wildness that came for its foreignness. My father prompted me to howl and I didwe two wolfmen yelled and yelled as we danced and danced around and around the bonfire. When the kill was ready we tore pieces off and ate like starving savages, but we weren't as hungry as we were pridefulwe were the kings of beasts which kill men. What nobler title is there? It was then in the mists of these zealous thoughts that my father began to tell a story. Usually his stories were about where the northern lights came from or why polar bears are white, but every once in awhile he would speak of something strange: my mother.
She was a wild woman much like I was a savage boy. Her hunting grounds were the streams and rivers where she spearheaded fish, but she loved to make furs for my father to wear. He said that her eyes would light up as if the pelt in her hands were one fire. He told me of how she told stories about the stars and that when she died she w as going to be sent into the night sky by the wolves to be with those bright meteorites. Usually when my father spoke of my mother, he talked of her gentleness and the sweet disposition she had for nature. He said she was indeed a woman because no brute of a man could ever be as kind and loving as she, but she was not weak or inferior. She had earned her place in the world and kept it by the force of her own strength. And then she was gone. My father never said what happened to her. Simply that she was gone.
I have only seen my father weep once in my life.
Last winter was one of those winters where nature shows her ugly side, and I can feel myself tremor in the wake of her coming wrath. I felt one of these tremors the night before the winter's first blizzard arrived, and it was then and not during the awful storm that I knew it was the worst one I had ever seen. The following morning everything seemed to have been laid to waste by the storm. Trees had toppled over and crumbled as if some giant had carelessly stepped through it. Rivers were blocked by pieces of ice, tree branches, and dead animals. Oh, the poor wretched animals. I know not what happened to them except that they must not have found a safe place to wait out the storm. Wolves limped about pitifully, rabbits scurried about in a constant frenzy, fish stayed deep under the water, and even the great white bear looked miserable. In reflection of this I now wonder if the afflicted creatures weren't affected by the storm but by an even more terrible event yet to occur.
My father and I, as caretakers of the frozenlands, cleared away the blights of the blizzard and made it into a dreamboat again. I wanted to climb into that boat and sail away and sleep in it and dream of hunting in the sky. My home had never looked so hopeless and depressing as it did that day and I wept as the sun set. For the first time the night held no exotic glamour for me and was just as empty as my mother's bed. I sought guidance from my father to help me cope with this almost inexplicable disparity of mine. My father told me today was long and the night longerin the morning we would go to our place in the mountains and he would show me that the world I knew still existed. I believed my father because there was nothing else to believe in, and he was all I had left after the storm took away the stability I thought my home had.
As I woke with the sun, I found my father sitting at the edge of our shelter humming a soft tune. I quickly recognized the tune to be one of the songs we sing on the mountain top, and I smiled and thought of this evening. Surely it was to be spectacular because my father made me believe it was going to be. The depressed wolves did not seem to dim my spirits as we went out to hunt, and I remember the vivacity I had as I nocked my arrow and took careful aim through the woods, which were still a clutter and jumble of seemingly miss-matched pieces. None of the miseries of the previous day affected me today as it had beforeno, I had been reborn and I was ready to take my world back from the nightmare that hade taken it.
I had our kill for the night.
As evening fast approached, my father told me to go to the river and look for the first star that appears. I didn't quite understand why he asked me to do this, but my father was exactly thatmy father. I had the utmost respect for him and I would take the sting of a wolf bite, the chill of the wintery rivers, the fury of a polar bear, and so much more for this man who raised me. While I walked out to the river I could already the first star of the night, but I went all the way to the river. I watched it shine as others appeared beside it, and thought about what my mother said about becoming a star when she died. My father appeared beside me then with preparations for that evening's festivities in tow. He looked up at the night sky and I could tell he knew which on was the first to appear without my telling. We watched as more stars shone while the red sky turned from red to purple and from purple to black.
"You know your mother is up there. I'll be with her soon," my father said.
And then we left.
There was indeed something significant and different about that night. The fire seemed tallera ferocious wall of flames. The howling seemed louder, almost deafening. The singing more lively, the dancing more wild. I could feel drums eating faster and faster as my father and we spun and spun around and around the bonfire crying with our might and terrible voices that said yes, we are here! It was beyond anything I'd known or felt; my heart pounded with my father's and pounded with life itself. Oh, yes, that's what it was! I was drinking the air of purest life and all of nature teemed beneath me, willing me to dance and sing faster and crazier. I did. I became frenzied and maddened with this energetic charge the night fed me. I laughed, almost terrified of myselfwho knew what I as capable of? Not I! Then I was the only one shouting and hollering. I stopped and everything elsethe drums, the night's energy, the cries of naturestopped, too. My father was gone.
It was then that I entered into my solitude.
These memories tore through my weakly built defenses and stabbed at my inner childindeed, that's what my memories turned me into: a weeping child. My father had made me prideful and I couldn't stand too see myself so totally rendered useless by this small loss. Yes, this was very insignificant; I have been taught to not preside over little disturbances so long as my world keeps on working. But if that's true then why is it not working? Why do I feel as if everything is burning and melting away? And it's all over something so meaningless! If this loss is killing me then why did the death of the wolf pups do nothing to me? Why did I not cry when the ice panther fell from the mountains? Did the grounded white bird have no effect on me? Why did I not care about all of these things, and then care so much for my father? Everything in this world is supposed to connect and be one and the samenothing is more important than the whole because we are all parts of life. We just can't have any importance because that would give importance to our death; that can't be allowed because if the world stopped for one loss then the whole machine would stop working. That's the way it's supposed to be so why am I not feeling that way? I cannot let myself quit working because I am this world's last terrible beast. If I give up then my home I have cared for all my life will suffer. I must continue or be absorbed by the noiseless white of winter which doesn't stop for petty cries of mercy.
That is why I have tried to make myself forget and I must go on. Mourning is of no use and I do not care to weep, but every night when the hunt does not preoccupy me these thoughts of last winter seep through their locks doors and pour into my blood to make my shriek in pain. Terrifyingly, my heart still beats as it dodges these death-like experiences, but even though I am alive I see things with a darkened vision. The sun is longer bright, the rivers no longer shimmer, the birds never chirp, and the howl of the wolves never sounded so miserable before.
I hate this place and it traps me for it. I cannot leave because this is all I've known and it knows it. This winter is colder and chills me more; I spit on the ground and I realize how much I hate the cold. There is nothing warm about this stark, blinding of desolate wastelands. All there is are staggered, sharpened mountains and miles and miles of ice and snow. The blizzards like to catch you stranded and pound you into the ice-covered ground as if it wants you to become the frozen soil itself. The winter laughs at you as you shake, unable to use your hands to light a fire. No, you can't have any warmth in this horrible place! I have been pushed closer and closer to the edge and I now realize that it wants me to fall. Nothing wants me to livethere are no fruits, there are not fertile grounds, there aren't even any supplies to build a boat to leave this place. What trees there are have hardly any use except for minimal survival. There isn't even any metal to make sharper arrow tips or cups to drink poison from. There isn't anything to make fish nets or nooses. This is a place of nothing that will see me dead before it lets me thrive.
I once saw how beautiful the sun lighted up the snow-covered grounds, and how charmingly the twinkling stars offer guidance when all seems hopeless. I used to never doubt its magnificence but now I have no doubt that I have been living in a perilous, menacing place. And I was foolish enough to believe this was where I was happiest. I have seen how wrong I have been, though. The frostbitten winds have swept away my hopes, the drowning river has sunk my dreams, and the creatures have torn apart my love for it all. But I continue to existthis place must have its beast to torture.
Many winters have passes and they continue to pass almost without my notice. The chill in the air seems to be the only difference, but I know if I watch closer I can notice the more subtle changes: the disappearing of the polar bears, the thickening layers of snow, the frozen-over river, the naked treeseven my own body seems to know it's winter for my bones creak and moan with the changing seasons. But I usually pay no mind to this and continue to hunt and improve my shelter. As I reflect upon past winters, I remember that all I did was hunt and maintain my safe-place; I did not go out toe admire the things scattered about in the snow land. Nothing was alluring or appealing anyway. However, as more winters piled on top of old ones, my contempt seemed to become numb and dissociatedit wasn't as stinging and impassioned as it had been in the past.
Perhaps the winter was slowly erasing me away as it had been planning to all along. But as much as I'd like to blame it on what I loathe I cannot. As I have natured and become accustomed to the speechlessness solitude, I realize that it takes so much more energy to hate than to love. To loathe something requires constant attention and festering, and it is too unnatural to the beast of a man that I am. My animosity for winter is too trifling and frustrating to be maintained. Love and compassion is what I have been filled with all these years, and it is hard to give anything back except that which fills me. And I really do not despise the cold seasonI may be one to love but I am also one to blame.
But after all these years of losing my desire to hate; I see that I still love winter and I never stopped. This is the time when everything becomes purified with the whiteness of snow, which lies crisply on the ground. The ice turns blue and magnificent sculptures are revealed amidst the childish clutter of glaciers. The sun glistens overhead and casts her rays upon the frost tundra below, which absorbs the light and reflects it back in a spectacular brilliance. All is peaceful and untaintedthe only time the world ever looked innocent was during this time. Winter comes and goes but always blesses me with the thought that there can be good in a world where all has gone to ruin; winter caresses me and wraps me in its tenderness and forgiveness. It holds no grudge over my sin against it, but continues to glow with frosty charity and showers me with a million hopeful snowflakes. This is a time rarely found: a cache of the universe where I have been given this absolutely gorgeous land that is sympathetic and gentle to my fragile thoughts. I am in a place that is unspoiled, unblemished, unlike anything I will ever know. I thought the world to be contemptuous, but now it appears to be misunderstoodit wants to give me something back for all the kindness I showed it in my youth.
I have this empty land, covered with fresh life and soft downs of snow; it emits a certain clarity that allows me to enlighten myself and see how precious my home is. But mostly it has given me the rare gift of a nearly unattainable place of noiselessness where I can sit, perched above the world, but with mountains still rising beyond me, and reflect upon all of the good things that filled this home of mine. Yes, the time and nostalgia are all I need to stroll about my world, whistling the tune of the wolf song, thinking about what this place is capable of doing to a young boy's soul. Now there is not a day that goes by without me stopping somewhereby the river, in the forest, across the icelandsand looking up at the cloudless blue sky and thinking with blue happiness that comes with a time-healed wound. I usually think of the stories my father told me and how much more meaning they have now. But that happens with everythingthe moment you loose something it instantly has value. Just like my winter.
And winters continued to roll on just as I did. Sometimes it stopped and waited on me and other times I had to chase it. Regardless, we always ended up in the same place laughing with each other like old friends. We talked of hunting the antelope, of making furs, of dancing under the moon, of the connection between the soil and us, of dying and being consumed by the winter spirits, of moving mountains to reach the sunshine, of yelling out a battle cry, of telling stories while sitting by a bonfire, and of sitting the extrinsic night. And it was during one of these nights that I stared up at the sky so brilliantly filled with stars. I traced them with my finger to make pictures of the wolf pack I have known since I was a babe.
"You know, my mother and father are up there," I said to winter, "and I'll be joining them soon." The breeze rose up and small flurries danced across my face. I raised my hand to catch a snowflake and then the winter wind swept me away. I was gone and nothing more.