A December Story
A bad piece of country lay ahead. We should have got across and delivered the packs we carried hours earlier. But the going on this brute of a barren mountain had been slow and hard. Now the night was coming down, darker and colder by the minute. Going on was more than we were up for. We thought we had not been doing too bad, the four of us with our packs and our dog, until the dark and cold stopped us in our tracks. And,to make things worse, we felt half lost, unsure of how to go on. So, we began to look for a place, protected, out of the punishing wind, where we could make camp-- such as it might be--and hunker down for the night.
A little scratch of a draw on the hillside would have to do in which to wait out the night and go on in the morning. We got a pitiful little fire going that the wind soon blew out, leaving us to pull our sougins around us against the cold and try to get some sleep.
We were pretty miserable. Things felt out of whack. The dog was acting crazy-- maybe the way, they say, animals behave before an earthquake.
But, anyhow, we slept fitfully, with no rest to it. Never was a night of such starless jet. Never, in all our years out in these territories, had any of us come as near to being frightened.
Then, after midnight, it happened. We came to our feet, rubbing our eyes at something going on in the sky: vertical shafts of faintly colored light shimmering up and down and across, gracefully, out there beyond us, but coming our way, around the lee, eastern side of the mountain. Beautiful. We weren’t scared any more, but excited out of our wits.
And the wind changed-- no longer coming down our backs, hacking at us, but shifted now clear around and coming toward us, gentle and warming, out of the East. The long bars of delicate light danced, sailing, in on us. But what got us was the sound that the wind-- or something-- was now making. Sort of in harmony with the lights.
Those lights, the wind, the harmony. I was shaking and felt like a fool. Things like this don’t happen. At least not to the likes of poor bastards like us. We must be seeing things.
I glanced around and saw one of us on his hands and knees staring into the lights. Another standing, shielding his eyes with his hands, locked in on the lights. Another of us just sat there on the ground dumb-founded. I cowered among the packs with the dog, hiding from the sight, yet unable to take my eyes off it. What was I doing here! In a flash of panic, I wanted to run.
But the lights swept up and over us, to pause for a moment-- like… I don’t know what… like something caring for us. And the sounds increased in an even more tremendous harmony. Like singing! We heard it! We saw it!
Then it was gone, over with, nothing left. The black night swallowed us up. The wind wheeled back around, roared up like before, slashing at us.
In our confusion, we tried to talk about what had happened, but soon gave up and bedded down again hoping maybe to sleep. We wanted only to get through the night, see the day again, and get on our way. Me, I couldn’t sleep. I lay there freezing, going over what had happened, trying to remember it exactly. At last, the dawn came up, rough and ugly, promising nothing. We chewed on some stuff we carried, drank icy water, and set out again over the great barrier mountain. We finally got across around midday.
There was no one to whom we could deliver our packs. No one would take them or talk to us. No one knew anything. They just drifted away. Everything was changed. We heard some strangers with a kid were trying to find a place to stay. When we found them with the baby, they didn’t try to avoid us. It was nice. It reminded us of last night and the lights.
But, we figured we’d better get out of there before someone got on to us. We wouldn’t say anything to anybody about what had happened, how we felt changed-- but couldn’t explain. Only that something big had happened. Something wonderful went with us, protecting us, as we hurried back the way we came.