Slice of Life Day 23 of 31: Journeys (my March theme)
“He was a newcomer in the land, a chechaquo, and this
was his first winter.” – To Build a Fire, Jack London
The coldest I have ever been in my entire life, by far, was in Skagway, Alaska on the side of a mountain on a Gold Rush tour in May 1998. Winds whipped bitterly from the snow-covered trees, stinging my nose, chapping my lips and cheeks, chilling my ears as if I weren’t bundled up in a coat, sweater, gloves and hat – or anything else – to keep out the cold. That was the day I became an honorary member of the Arctic Brotherhood and understood for the first time, for one fleeting moment, what cold meant. I was, as Jack London would say, a chechaquo.
We left our stateroom A641 aboard the Sun Princess and set out on a tour of Skagway along Alaska’s Inside Passage. I was most excited about this particular port because it was the place where Jack London set out on the Chilkoot Trail for his Klondike quest that would become one of the greatest adventures in all of literary history. Plus, I love a good story with a dog as a character – and who more than Buck, whose spirit I felt roaming the streets. My heart skipped beats seeing the sleds in the Gold Rush Museum, where the provisions for sledders along the trail sent my mind spinning with all the things they had to take just to survive (one full year’s provisions).
As two of my children learned from a real gold miner lessons on How to Pan for Gold 101, I watched and listened, reminded of the hardships of the turn of the century that brought so many men searching for that one nugget that they believed would bring them security, and the risks they were willing to take to strike it rich. And I understood the primal need To Build A Fire and bask in its warmth in a way that had only ever garnered a half-hearted nod of agreement to London’s words on the page…..until I felt the paralyzing cold on the side of that mountain in Skagway.
The crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold, and a man is tested by his praise.