Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Bleak Winds, Warm Snow

Bleak Winds, Warm Snow 
A story of those voices whispering in the wind...

As black winds polish snow throughout the night,
Sculpting sweeping curves with amazing grace,
The bitter touch of frost upon my face,
Grants me a waking dream, also the sight
To watch the winter winds dance through that space.

My name was Malachi and I ride the winds of the Keweenaw. I’m drawn to this place on cold winter nights for its bleak beauty, for memories that still haunt me, and for a purpose. I have issues: I owe a debt of gratitude to someone and I search for him where death stalks the night. My purpose: to ask what I can do to repay his kindness to me on the night I died.

Memories of my life are faint and confusing. There were children and a wife who grieved at my passing, but not too much, for I was not a loving person. I see their faces, but forget their names. For a time, I watched over them as they grew old and had brief reunions when each transitioned to this place, this plane. However, the reunions were short as each moved on, and I remained to fulfill my quest, to balance the books that kept me from finding peace.

Memories of my death replayed constantly through my thoughts and remained graven, stark and bleak, upon my consciousness. An anchor for my spirit, those reflections of a black night long past held me here, kept me searching for the man in rags.

I remember it was December, a bright cold morning when overnight snow painted the balsams and the tamaracks with a fine brush. Four of us were hunting in the forest near Eagle River in high hopes of making venison sausage for Christmas. It was early in the winter season and the tracking snow was good. Blue skies, boyhood friends, and best intentions, what could go wrong?

Our plan was to hunt in two groups of two, heading southeast toward Gratiot Lake for about four hours. If we found nothing, we would return, following our tracks to Eagle River. If successful, a signal of two rapid shots would bring the other group to help haul the catch home. I think the plan would have worked had not the sudden lake effect snowstorm changed everything.

Tom and Reino started out two degrees north of our base course, Albert and I headed two degrees south. Two hours into our walk, the wind shifted suddenly to the NNW and it began to snow heavily. We walked on for about a half-hour and called a halt.

“It’s not stopping!” Yelled Albert over the rising wind, “We must turn back!” He reached for his compass, but it had fallen from its lanyard somewhere back on our trail.

“Backtrack as long as we can!” I shouted and lead the way back. Or so I thought.

After about 15 minutes of trudging through the mounting drifts, our trail was no longer visible and I turned to ask Albert what he thought, but Albert was nowhere to be seen. I shouted his name into the mounting howl of the wind and blank wall of whirling snow. Once I thought I heard a rifle shot off to my left, so I headed that way. In the uniform white, I could not see any sun or shadow to help me gauge direction, and tried to steer by keeping the wind to my right.

Time was not slowing, but I was. I knew if I kept onward in one direction, I would reach a road, a river, or the shore of Lake Superior and could follow any one of those to find help. So far, however, I found nothing but trees, underbrush, and blowing snow. Soon, I noted that all was growing dim. It was nearly 6 PM and night was just over the next hill.

As the light failed, I found Lake Superior rather abruptly. I heard the waves crashing ahead and hurried forward, right over the edge of a 30 foot embankment. As I fell, I swear I heard voices in the wind. When I regained consciousness, it was fully dark, my left leg was obviously broken -- it should not stick out at that angle -- but I felt little pain except for a rather nasty headache.

I cursed myself for a fool and tried to think what to do next. I was lying at an odd angle across a large rock poking through ice forming at the shoreline. My arms were fine and I tried to sit up, but my back and legs were numb and refused to respond. Tears formed in my eyes as I realized my situation was hopeless. Unless someone found me soon, if I didn’t bleed out, I would freeze to death. I cried and shouted for help. Alternately, I prayed to and cursed God, as if He had put me here. After 20 or so minutes of screaming and thrashing about with my arms, I lay back and laughed at myself. It was the hopeless and mirthless laugh of the brave and the insane. I decided on insane, because I was now hearing voices in the wind, voices that soon resolved into a single voice singing loud and strong. I heard:

When the black winds push the white snow along,
And the big lake’s voice revels in a roar,
A traveler finds he can roam no more,
And finds himself listening to a song,
As he freezes on Superior’s shore.

The voice became a shadow and the shadow a pile of rags with an old man inside. The old man smiled at me and with strength belied by his size, lifted me to lean against the frozen bank, facing out of the wind and toward Lake Superior. He sat down opposite me and sang once more:

The caress of the ice-dream is so cold,
That at first it feels like the sting of fire;
Yet its deeper kiss will deep sleep inspire,
And the soul so blessed may be well consoled,
It departs upon a painless white pyre

As he sang, his face changed from aged to ageless and his rags became a colorful costume befitting a minstrel. A lute appeared in his hands, and as he played it a green fire burned between them. The heat of the fire did not burn me, but cleansed me of all pain and made me feel nearly weightless.

The power within the old Minstrel’s song,
Severs your ties with the stark, earthly plane,
Ends your daily worries, and salves your pain.
So release fear and heartache, move along,
Fly away, to never return again!

I stood without effort, glancing back at the now empty and frozen body upon the shore, and started forward toward a welcoming light flashing along the shore. Something about the ageless being and his kind eyes caused me to turn back, just to thank him for his company. As I did so, the green light winked out and I was alone on the beach. The welcoming light was also gone, and I felt alone and abandoned.

For awhile, I don’t know how long, I wandered along that beach and in the surrounding woods, seeking the Minstrel. I asked questions of passersby, but they only flinched and looked about with terrified eyes as they heard a whisper on the wind.

Years later, I saw the green fire again, near an auto accident on the highway and rushed to talk with the Minstrel. He did not seem surprised to see me coming towards him. He smiled and sang just two verses for me:

As black winds polish snow throughout the night,
Sculpting sweeping curves with amazing grace,
The bitter touch of frost upon your face,
Granted you a waking dream, and the sight
To watch the winter winds dance through that space.

To me you have been a long-valued friend,
Your whispers have been a life-saving guide:
Warning many who surely would have died!
Your journey of gratitude soon will end;
Your family waits on the other side

In a flash of green light, he was gone. I realized I had not uttered a word; I’d not said, “Thank you.” Yet, I knew it was not necessary and that my journey would soon end. Reaching to grasp the ever-present wind, I stopped.

Was that a bright and welcoming light coming along the beach?

Was that my family?

Mick McKellar
January 2015

Don't ignore those voices in the wind. They might just have sound advice for you!


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