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[The Dread of the Yukon]
And the Journey
The Witch Speaketh:
Once witches danced
To plenilunal magic
With weak souls to molest–;
Ah! Yes–way back when?
When–witches robbed men
Of virtue and piousness.
[July, AD 1909] I’m over fifty, and Shauna, over forty, she’s more on the order of being, so-so in her ways than I, so-so meaning, you never know, and can be very stern if not given her way. My illness is of a peculiar order–I’ve thought possible she gave it to me–my wife, if in deed, one can give illnesses to another, I’d not put it past her; and the question is: could I go there without becoming fragmented and hurting someone in a panic state as I now often get because of the blame damn illness? This illness no one has a name for but is of some neurological makings, with side effects that disturb the emotional makeup of a person; she thought I’d be fine; should I become panic stricken; that I’d not hurt myself intentionally. I even mentioned–fruitlessly–even death by a hundred different reasons could occur. Again I repeat myself: she was indifferent to these worries of mine. My work used to be rather trying, as I spent much time in the Yukon years ago, now a professor at the University, with cross-cultural clients from every walk of life. I teach psychology.
“Robert doesn’t mention any one but you, Lowell,” was Shauna’s rejoinder.
“I gather he’s lonely for travel, or so I expect?” said I in return.
Incidentally, she looked at me as if I was out of my mind, turning toward the window; it was obvious she was dumbfounded in my lack of interest in joining him again on a surprise journey to the Yukon–it was fifteen-years since we had last been there. She didn’t push the menu, I might add, but she wanted me to take the invitation, she was acting timid, and that is not her statuette. Robert has what I would call–a not worth mentioning, personality. But he has money, influence, and it pays the bills; or used to. He also has blood shot eyes most of the time, likes to drink you know, like a fish out of water; his expression is dull, dim and flat, and he’s 61, too old for such nonsense.
I think of the barren, spacious Yukon, its cold roomy country, a wing of the devils where you can’t find much to eat, hard to sleep, and it does not have hot baths. I’ve been in the Yukon, as well as the far Arctic, it is no dream trip at our ages, or so I feel.
Wealth flashed across my wife’s face, and to enticed her, the unscrupulous professor made it worth her time to intimidate me: the fine things of life it would buy he shoved in front of her enigmatic, paranormal face; after the expedition that is shed be the queen of the city, sort of speaking; and the truth of the matter is, I could rest for a year or two, in a quiet work-room and just write poetry, with a perfect cup of coffee, or tea each day, instead of that same old, same old crap. Sure, there is a good point about his, I admit, and not many people would be demanding my every minute once I got back, and it would be only a four month endeavor, but again I say, it is too demanding; and so the Professor asked to me to go along with him, Professor Robert Spellvice; ‘why?’ to look for old bones, old mammal bones in the Yukon, this is not my cup of tea at fifty-seven years old; not anymore anyway. But if I stay around here, it will be a long winter with my wife, and I can tell you, short in days can be long in months with her, if she’d doesn’t make me into a toad in the mean time. Like I said, there are points to this, I admit.
“I spoke with him yesterday, and he really wants you Lowell, he said he wanted your answer today, and not a ‘no,’ informing me he’d give you three times your wages than the university, along with a big bonus once completed, and he can acquire a leave of absence for you without any issues raised…?” I found myself gazing in the dullness of my library: eyes in a pause, looking at my wife, but not saying a word.
I spoke at length with her about how long we’d be gone–feeling it was a long time, and exactly how much was he was offering was not worth it, and the books that would be written thereafter, and the royalties, was still more work to be done–implying: it was not as simply as she was making it out to be, and I wanted to retire for the most part, I had written twenty-nine books (for god sake how many more must a man write to prove his worth?). Shauna did not budge from her insistence in that I should go, nor move from the archway of our library, as I expected. She kept her dark green eyes on me, a mist formed around her, like a black bubble, it often did when she was thinking hard, thinking and not wanting anyone in to some safety zone of hers, as if I could, or someone might be able to, read her thoughts; it was her compilation of hidden knowledge in witchcraft I was witnessing, and skeptical about: should I not agree to do it, I might end up doing it anyhow as it may appear to me–with her art of magic–I wanted to in the first place, and by the time the spell would fade, I’d be in the Yukon anyhow. I didn’t know she was a witch when I married her; it came out when she healed me with some stupid shrub, or herb from it, of scurvy or whatever I had back then, back in l886, if I recall right.
I fought it, but it didn’t’ do much good until I returned and she hurled her the unexplained, delightful enchantment on me, along with that shrub-herb. Oh, that isn’t all, in the Yukon, there are deep dizzy mountains, deathlike, and graves here and there of those before you that tired to find their fortune in it. I scrabbled and mucked like a slave them days. It is the cruelest land that I know. Yes, there is beauty also, the big husky sun, the stars tumble about at night; the caribou run in the wild, it is fresh, silent, a stillness to it also, a good portion of it unpeopled; but there are hardships that nobody reckons; keep it, I will take a hot bath and think about those who wish to go back to that world, should I have such a pleasure in making the decision not to, but I fear not
Instead of me inviting it hopefully, as an alternative, I told her I’d try to look forward to it, but I only did so in depression, a kind of creeping one at that. Here I was to enter a world of fog and slush, gloom and cold; these melancholy thoughts I must put aside. Now she went into her room, with that impassive face, an evil woman at times.
[Interlude I] Lowell’s mind was now free for the moment, having Shauna’s spell and demand packed away, thus he lost the fearfulness that was lingering within his stomach, his intestines, his head and spine–the uneasiness she could provoke upon and within his system, make it endure should he defy her. Now he committed himself to the irretrievable blunder to be, which lay ahead of him: or so he felt it would turn out to be; he devoted long hours to getting in shape the following two months, for the September trip. He lost over ten pounds, put on some muscle in its place. Found new maps of the Yukon, and Arctic regions, for they’d be in both areas before their trip was over; he was never losing hope the Professor would cancel the trip, and perhaps go in the summer months, but he didn’t. He packed away for the trip a few books, one by George Sterling of poetry; he liked his imagery, a great poet out of California; and another one by Gertrude Stein.
It seemed to him, Professor Spellvice had not done any extraordinary preparation for the long enduring trip that lay ahead of them, which required specialization for the most part, hence, Lowell was baffled. His head was whirling with conflict and contradiction of this idleness. Did he think the Yukon, or the Arctic was summer year round? I mean, he wasn’t the man he was fifteen-years ago, or twenty-five years ago when they had made their first of several trips to the enduring North. Perhaps the Professor had bones and artifacts in general on his mind so much he forgot that it gets sixty to eighty below zero up there, should they not make it back before winter; and he was playing a most dangerous game trying to beat the cold and freezing up of the lakes and rivers by going in late September. So these were Lowell’s thoughts. In addition, He felt the Professor could lose twenty-pounds, minimum, which would do him well; scrap off that pot belly of his; he was only five foot six inches tall, and the bellow lapped over his belt like rolls from a pig, he must had been 190-pounds. He also had a black beard and his back and arms, legs and all was hairy like an ape.
By and large, Lowell McWilliams was in a state of addlement [becoming rotten] when he met the day he and the professor were to take the train from Minnesota to the Canadian boarder; and then onto the Yukon, to Dawson to get supplies, and all the way to the Arctic, and perhaps even to Mackenzie Bay [which was not on the agenda, but in the back of the professors mind which would add another for or five months to the trip back and forth, but should he had told Lowell, it would have only made matters worse]. Both Lowell and Professor Spellvice were aware Peary had made it to the North Pole [April 6, l909] by sledge, and it may have had inspired Spellvice to make the trip before winter, and the summer of the following year, or at least that is what came to mind for Lowell. But Lowell was more interested in the possibility of the fight that was to take place with Jack Johnson, come the summer of next year [l910], on July 4th, thus leaving in August of 1910, would had been excellent for him.
And the Lake
The Raw Arctic
I have seen its vastness–
A lonely land I know;
On its silent splendor,
Its beauty: strung my soul!…
For the first few weeks nobody spoke unless there was an absolute need to, and Lowell chopped ice as they shifted through the waters, his ores heavy with ice, cliffs all about him. Lowell wanted to turn about a hundred times, but his will refused his mind and bodies better judgment. And Professor Spellvice, whom never swore, learned how to somehow this time, as the river become more dangerous, and he become more exhausted. Lowell got thing about this time: ‘…for some odd reason, it would seem each man wants to prove something in his life before he dies, and thus, puts life and limb in harms way if need be, heart and soul into it, even if he puts others in harms way, and this was one of those times for the professor.’ It seemed that, each man had reached his breaking-point during this journey, but jerked back from pulling their revolvers out and shooting the other.
During the evenings in camp, each would take their turns with some kind of hesitated and sort hysterical laugh, and a few hours later they’d both be fast asleep; a way of releasing the pressure of the long hatchet struggle in the Yukon. One blamed the other for whatever anguish had rested on his soul that day, but by nightfall it usually was forgotten, and by morning after a cup of coffee, it was time to loosen up the stiffen muscles and the ache of moving from the sleep of fatigue of the night before.
It was on the 41-day, they had woke up, finished with the coffee, it was dark yet, Lowell rolled up the sagging tent, said to Robert, “Come on, we got to get across the lake before it freezes up; it was thirty-below, and as they started to cross the lake the wind started to freeze up the Roberts cheeks and nose, when he touched them, they were froze hard like an ice cube. He stopped rowing, left the ore by itself as he pulled his gloves off to warm his face with his own fleshly hands. Thus, as they floated down the swift river, shore-ice extended out into the lake and it was hitting the boat as it broke from its main sheet. Lowell didn’t see Robert, he was starting a fire in the little iron stove they had in the boat, for it was to be a six hour trip across the lake, and into the river; which would bring them a landing point, just before the water falls; consequently, his back was turned to him.
The older man, Professor Spellvice, was beyond fatigue, and was now rubbing his face, it was dead tissue he was rubbing, tissue that was frost bitten: turning white; his ore had slipped gently into the lake, there was one left, it remained connected to the boat on the other side, then all movement ceased–they hit a big rock in the middle of the lake, the professor fell forward onto Lowell’s back, sound like he was in extreme anxiety: “I’ll sure go back now,” his eyes bulging out of their sockets: then apologized for taking him into this ‘forsaken land,’ hunting for old bones; then like a sack of potatoes, he fell limp: dead to the world. What had come over him, Lowell didn’t know there were no real signs that had forecasted such a quick expiration.
Lowell had food, some gold-dust they had traded for dollars in Dawson, just incase they needed to buy some camp items along the way, should they find someone willing to sell them, along with meat or other needed items, hence, dollars would not hold the value as gold would. He knew he had flour, some beef-jerky, a few tin goods; as he looked about the boat; then he noticed he had one ore. The shore was about a mile away; he’d turn the boat that way, but didn’t have it, it seemed somehow to turn by itself in that direction compelled to go that way he told himself–“Why?” He then pulled out a bottle of whiskey, took a few drinks, after thawing out his mustache to get the bottle into his mouth.
He looked at old Professor Spellvice, “So-long, old chap,” he said with a regretful- ness, while his red-hot stove gave him new vitality. It was getting colder, for he spit in the air and it froze before it hit the ice in the lake. “It’s getting colder all the time…” he told the stove, as if it had a mind of its own, rubbing his bare hands to the warmth of its flames, turning now and then to the back of the book looking at the Spellvice humped over like a lump of lard, chin on his chest.
“Ssh!” he said aloud. He heard a woman’s voice from the shore; he could see the shore now. “Huh!” said he, in a whisper to himself. For some reason, Shauna did not occur to him that the voice coming from the shore was hers, or could be; it was some other woman’s. As his boat oddly enough was being pulled to shore by some hidden force, the snow in this areas was feet thick, deep snow he noticed. ‘Nobody could live up here,’ he told himself, the stove now going out, ‘…only the devil,’ he added to his monologue. He felt his legs and knees, he knew his muscles were still strong with warm circulating blood; hence, he could trudge along the snow for a few days once ashore, but he needed to find a log cabin–sooner or later–and wait out the winter. There was no way of going back. He’d bury the old professor in spring, when he’d make his way back across the lake; it would freeze over soon–the lake that is, if not this evening, surely tomorrow or the following day.
[Interlude II] Lowell loved beauty, be it in nature as it was in the North Country here, or in women, for his wife was most beautiful, or in poetry; and now the great north had provided this beauty for him. He and the professor, if they had enjoyed anything together on this trip, it was in the gazing into the magic of its beautiful landscape, it silent nights, its overpowering vastness; it stirred within him, profoundly, within both of them. It seemed to fill the blank pages of his Lowell’s mind, those that had been gathering for so many years. These past six weeks he had sung to himself aloud, something he had not done for a very long time. The landscape illuminated both the professor and him, although the professor seemed to have experienced darkness because of his avidly unpreparedness for the trip, he did find time to absorb its wondrous beauty. But now he was gone forever, a sad case at best, thought Lowell. Under all those cloths the professor had on, he was sweating out the old stress and strain he had carried a thousand miles; his shirt clung to his shoulders from the sweat.
[see part Two]
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write by Abner