“A drowsy, half-wakeful menace waits for us in the quietness of this world. I have felt it near me while kneeling in the snow, minding a trap on a ridge many miles from home. There, in the cold that gripped my face, in the low, blue light failing around me, and the short day ending, in those familiar and friendly shadows, I was suddenly aware of something that did not care if I lived. Or, as it may be, running the river ice in midwinter: under the sled runners a sudden cracking and buckling that scared the dogs and sent my heart racing. How swiftly the solid bottom of one’s life can go.”
–John Haines “Lost”
There have been times, out in the back country, when I have felt the presence of that ‘drowsy, half-wakeful menace’. An apathy towards my survival. I’ve always made it back out to what we call civilization. Maybe it was luck, maybe it was planning, possibly a combination of both. There is an addiction to living that close to the edge. To hiking in grizzly country, to stumbling onto a moose shadow in the moonless night, to trekking out to the hot springs in sharp, minus forty air. I loved the life off the grid, at the end of the trail, with no neighbors, no street lights, and no net.
I have a friend who has, in his words, “played it safe”. He didn’t travel far, did the 8-5/M-F, married, had kids, he probably even went to church every Sunday. He is now losing a battle with cancer, and will be lucky to see Thanksgiving. We talked the other night, when he confessed that he never understood me until he got sick. Now, at the end, he said, “I get you for the first time.”
I didn’t know what to say to that, even though I have eerily heard those words before. I couldn’t even pretend surprise by his admission, because I’ve known I’ve been a conundrum for him for years. It never bothered me, because, quite honestly, I didn’t care that he was bothered by my little world at the end of the glacier.
We all have our paths to tread.
I’ve been re-reading Haines’ “The Stars, The Snow, The Fire” and I can’t stop thinking about my friend, and how he never thought the bottom could ever fall out.