To Build a Fire
DAY HAD DAWNED COLD AND GRAY WHEN
the man turned aside from the main Yukon trail. He climbed the high
earth-bank where a little-traveled trail led east through the pine forest.
It was a high bank, and he paused to breathe at the top. He excused
the act to himself by looking at his watch. It was nine o’clock in the
morning. There was no sun or promise of sun, although there was not
a cloud in the sky. It was a clear day. However, there seemed to be an
indescribable darkness over the face of things. That was because the sun
was absent from the sky. This fact did not worry the man. He was not
alarmed by the lack of sun. It had been days since he had seen the sun.
The man looked along the way he had come. The Yukon lay a
mile wide and hidden under three feet of ice. On top of this ice were
as many feet of snow. It was all pure white. North and south, as far as
his eye could see, it was unbroken white. The one thing that relieved
the whiteness was a thin dark line that curved from the pine-covered
island to the south. It curved into the north, where it disappeared
another pine-covered island. This dark line was the trail—the
main trail. It led south 500 miles to the Chilcoot Pass, and salt water.
It led north 75 miles to Dawson, and still farther on to the north a
thousand miles to Nulato, and finally to St. Michael, on Bering Sea,
a thousand miles and half a thousand more.
But all this—the distant trail, no sun in the sky, the great cold,
and the strangeness of it all—had no effect on the man. It was not
he was long familiar with it. He was a newcomer in the land, and
this was his first winter.
The trouble with him was that he was not able to imagine. He
was quick and ready in the things of life, but only in the things, and not
in their meanings. Fifty degrees below zero meant 80 degrees of frost.
Such facts told him that it was cold and uncomfortable, and that was...