At this edge of the world the light is quiet today. No golden flame shoots across a lavender sky. And on snow-blanketed birch branches bursting through the spruce, the peach glow is noticeably absent. Instead, the monochromatic white, white, white outside is painfully beautiful…and silent. The only sound other than a bush plane taking off on skis and the hum of Alaska Airlines’ 1:40 to Anchorage, is my own breathing, and that seems to be slowing down, breath by breath, into nothingness. Am I slipping into hibernation?
I’ve already dropped 5,000 IUs of D3 and a multi-vite large enough to make a small moose dance, and I’ve been sitting in front of my daughter’s happy light for the required half-hour reading Disappearance: A Map, by Sheila Nickerson, one of Alaska’s great writers and a former poet laureate.
Again this morning, a bright and silent sky after another frost. Yesterday I saw few birds–three sparrows in mid-afternoon, one sparrow a little later, and two crows. No robins. No ravens. No gulls. This morning, so far, no birds.
I read those lines over and over and when I reach the last birds, each time, an avalanche of drowsiness pulls me down into a spasm of sleep/jerk awake. I have two choices: go back to bed or take a walk. Dream about birds, or shuffle through the snow until I find one.
Piling on so many layers is work, but critical: flannel-lined jeans, flannel shirt, wool sweater, wool scarf long enough to wrap around my face, a boiled wool cap from Sweden, my 800 fill power down parka, snow boots guaranteed to keep toes warm to negative 40 and, finally, my glove liners and gloves. I stuff my camera in a pocket and waddle out into the white.
It’s WHITE, very, except for a thousand black spruce straddling the road. And it’s empty. Even shadows are missing. This breaks my heart. If “alone” can be a verb, that’s what I’m doing, alone-ing my way. crunch by crunch, through white emptiness, looking for something awesome enough to keep me awake.
A raven cries out from somewhere. I notice my breathing is now raspier and in counterpoint to the crunch, and the crunch morphs into the sound of two sled dogs barking from their rooftops. Is it because I’m walking on snowplow tracks, or are real dogs joining in on the sudden flurry of sounds?
A metallic scraping behind me enters the symphony! My breathing speeds up as I zip across the road, and slows down after the snow plow passes. I watch until both time and the yellow dot disappear and I realize how awake I am in the middle of this white gallery of experiences that can only happen here/now on a lonely road in Alaska.
Poem excerpt from “The Dream of February.” Copyright © 1993 by John Haines.