a story by Joshua Stribbell
Alone he stood among the silence and the cold, wind whispering thoughts in his ear, the Inuk pilgrim facing off against the arctic tree line battalion. Long had he journeyed to reach this place and he wondered if he could leave it all behind and wander bravely into the dark. The only footprints in the snow were the elliptical tracks of his snowshoes pressing clumsily off into the distance. It was not strange for him to feel alone in this desolate wilderness where forest met tundra.
The wind began to pick up, it’s icy breath kissing his skin through caribou fur as the traveller lost himself in reckless contemplation. Two worlds lay on either side of him. The weight of each had pressured him into this lonely purgatory, leaving him unsure of which way to go. He had a southern heart that betrayed his northern face. To his kin in the south, however, he felt like another disappointing commodity in their fast-paced consumerism who failed to offer everything that was advertised. The wanderer had not found his self in the place of his birth, so he entertained the idea that he could it in the place of his dreams. Perhaps now he could share how wild the spirit becomes north of the short white spruce.
A crippling fear lay north that paralyzed the traveller. He had never experienced the arctic beyond echoes overheard from others who had experienced it, and although one of these echoes had said it was customary in northern culture, who was he to arrive unannounced into their home claiming to be their brother? He knew well that he was Inuk, but did that make him Inuit? Was it blood that made you a part of the people? He once learned that to the Inuit, names and souls were synonymous, that in them the spirit of the ancestors continued to live on. What would they call him? Frobisher? Hudson? It was this fear, that they would not see their reflection in his eyes that stopped his tracks in the snow at the same line as the trees. Amidst this fear was a hope that he would arrive among them as an old relative who had left on an adventure, returning as someone they used to know with a thousand stories to tell, and eager to hear the stories of what had happened while he was gone.
The pilgrim passed his hours in lonely meditation, unaware until now that the shivering had begun. He had been standing still for far too long. He could feel his blood constricting with his shortness of breath. He needed to start moving, but where? The wind rose now from a whisper to a howl, picking up the snow until it was swirling like ghosts all around him. The homesick wanderer sought shelter in the comfort of the trees. Panicked, the thoughts in his mind froze during the blizzard as all he could hear became the sounds of the two worlds howling ghosts screaming as they entered his ears. The small amount of exposed skin on his face seemed to split apart, the warrior was being devoured by these ghosts, eaten alive at the valley between their kingdoms. The world’s themselves became mountains with insurmountable peaks. He wished he had never come to this place. He missed the sound of car horns and sirens. Staring into the eyes of his demons he longed instead for the neon glow of the city, coupled with the colorful signs of department stores and people, so many people navigating through countless streets at incredible pace.
The demons screamed “Fall! Lay down your life and fall!” As he almost lay fetal in the snow. The south had pushed him here, yes, it was them who brought him to this desolate wasteland, and the north held him back. They would not allow him to move forward. The demons screamed “Fall! Lay down your life and fall!”, so many times that the traveller fell victim to their rhythm. Embracing the ground that could soon become his tomb, tears freezing on his face, a curious thought entered his mind. Perhaps these screeching voices weren’t demons at all. The pilgrims journey reached a moment of clarity in the storm. The south didn’t push him here, it was he who brought himself. It was not the north that held him back. He held himself back. The ghosts weren’t demons at all. In fact they were the opposite. They were angels! Angels who weren’t telling him to stay down. He heard their voice now so loud, so melodic it was like a song moving through his weak, shivering body giving him strength. They sung “Get up! Get up and rise!” As he had lain in the snow, wishing there was a bridge between these two worlds, he realized he was already on it. His trajectory bore testimony to that fact. He was walking on the bridge, in fact he was the bridge! And at this moment he realized he wasn’t the only one. Men and women had been engineering these bridges for thousands of years. Perhaps before! People were the bridges between worlds. At this moment, he realized he was not like Frobisher. No. Unlike the European explorer, this traveller had just charted his northwest passage.
His muses sang “Get up! Get up and rise!” The song played so powerfully that he could no longer ignore it. The warrior let out a thunderous roar that rose like the howl of a wolf above the storm. He tore himself from the comfort of the trees and charged into the fray. His soul would walk tall, far taller than the short white spruce as he dared to travel where they were afraid to go. His soul would walk taller than the summit of the mountains of the two worlds. The clumsy tracks of his snowshoes became entirely straight: graceful in their strides like a rabbit through the snow. The traveller returned home to a world he had never known to reunite with a people he had never seen.
The arctic, however, showed no sympathy for his sentiments. It cared not for his sudden transformation. The spirit of the north would test his strength and his endurance. A gust of wind broke the warrior from his charge. He fell hard onto the snow and ice; the air being knocked out of his lungs. His volition was being challenged to it’s limit. As the traveller struggled to reclaim his breath he received once again the gift that creates all champions of faith: doubt. He wondered if the silence and the cold would help him find his blood by spilling it. The snow began to cover his body until he believed he was being buried alive. It seemed the only thing he had found on this quest was his grave. But was this any grave for a southern man? Was this any grave for a northern man? No. This was a grave for a weak man, or an unlucky one. The warrior did not believe in chance, so if he could find one more ounce of strength in his failing body then he could deny the cold his soul once more.
The storm reached it’s peak, and his muses sang louder than they ever had before “Get up and rise!” His eyes obeyed, looking up towards the top of the world. In the distance was a colorful glow, beckoning him in the sea of ice like a siren. His hands were the next to listen, clawing the snow and pulling him closer, the snow beginning to fall off his back. His legs wold follow, inching forward so that he looked like a frog crawling on the landscape. He was surrounded by the spirits of the north, his angels, his demons, and the souls of the two worlds who had long passed, all watching him decide what kind of person he would choose to be. “Get up and rise!” the warrior said, his spirit now obeying the call. His muscles struggled to find their proper footing as the swirling ghosts danced around him. “Get up and rise!” he yelled once more, and as suddenly as a bolt of lighting scorches the hard earth and as slowly as thunder booms through the night sky, so too did the storm begin to stop. The ghosts had finished their ballet, the muses their symphony, and the arctic spirit relented its ruthlessness. They all seemed to retreat into the colorful display of lights that painted the northern sky.
The Inuk pilgrim rose now so that he stood alone among the silence and the cold, facing forward like a general with the arctic tree line battalion behind him. Long had he journeyed to reach this place, and he was ready to leave it all behind and wander bravely into the light.