The minute scintillations crossed the silvered sheets of winded snow,
And winter’s watered sun did cast a gleam from distant falling glow.
Then hissing down to join the corps of frozen flakes in drifts and mounds,
The susurrating mites of ice with pale blue capes, and copes, and crowns,
Fill up the rocks and trail and trees.
My tread was deep in white of ice (the sound was lost within the hiss).
My boots, indeed, were lost, almost, within the blanket-covered trail.
And stopping in the blackened wood, to find a way that once I knew,
When Spring had come but freshly new,
I stood amongst the swirling points of blowing ice that stung my face.
The wood and trail around me lay, in spring was warm and welcomed fair,
But now it seemed an alien’s place of white and black, defeat’s disgrace.
Of cold, ‘til now, I scarce had note, (the work of boots in snow is hard),
But standing in the swirling black of setting sun at close of day,
I felt the cold invade my mind with dread of loss and life’s decay.
Alone in cold, and dark, and snow, without an end to trail in sight,
Nor way to go, now lost in time, to warm the heart amidst the bite,
Of age and loss in Man’s cramped scope, against the careless years’ delight,
I feared, the poorest purchase yet, for fearful Minds on perils’ slope,
Let slip the lessons learned in youth,
To squander will, and trust, and hope.
With me, the Fear did argue hard to stay and rest, nor brave the drifts,
And risk the trail which wound beyond and edged the drop along the cliffs.
A slip, a fall, and terror looms from sintered stones to fall unseen.
Nor found, nor friended … wounded there, to wait the Cold… come there to glean,
The last of rebel heat from me, against the lords of Dark and Doubt.
So there I stooped in blackened wood and felt my ice-infected mind,
But fear me to the spot, I stood, ‘til wind and snow would stay and bind.
The Youth, whose step was silent, came (as, I am sure, my own had been)
And thus it was I saw him close enough to touch before I learned,
That some another soul walked on amongst the snow and blackened trees.
His face, I saw but in a flash, did seem familiar, strangely so,
And young, he seemed, as once I was, when I was, deathless
More to say, that any Death then I would choose,
Had been to me, no doubt, but Fair and Noble, Earth-beshifting … Grand!
and, doubtless, cause a deep lament from lasses I had not yet met!
The youth was poorly shod and dressed in thin and sodden, mended coat,
A sea coat, worn but mended well as once had I when young and poor.
His hat, I saw he’d pulled right down, to cover ears from snow and wind,
Was black but with a frosting yet, a watch cap covered wet with snow!
So close was he I barely raised my voice to him. I said “Hallo,”
(My speech was not informed by wit).
Says he to me “G’evenin’ sir,” and made to walk the trail beyond.
I stopped him with a touch upon his coat and felt him shiver… once.
“Perhaps and do you know the trail to Shiloh Station or thereabouts?”
“Of course,” he says “Just follow me,” then laughing turned at once, and left.
I lurched then on my feet and stepped upon the trail, cold-clumsy… stiff.
To wend a way that once I knew when spring had come but freshly new.
The Youth, his hands in pockets kept, and walked away, not looking back.
He soon was gone from out my sight to leave me in the dim of night.
And, soon I lost him in the gloom, the Youth who found me, then my guide.
“He must be cold or late for meat,” thought I, as trudging on I found,
His footsteps in the drifts of snow already filling up with ice,
Yet left the black enbranch’ed wood, as snow swirled in the midst of night,
Escaped I traps that Fear had made to follow faint-lit forms at night.
Still stumbling on the hidden rocks beneath the blanket, white, of snow,
I learned to place my feet within his mark of boots but followed slow.
The Edge I found when walking thus, so carefully, just looking down,
As coming to a great dark hall where echoes lose reflected sound.
The wind now doubled its resolve to stop my progress, there to stay.
Indeed, it bid me to my knees, along the edge of granite cliffs.
With shards of ice the wind assailed and flayed my eyes if long I looked,
To see the prints, each fainter yet, from light of sullen, scudding sky.
I crawled along from print to print, amidst the torrent’s wind and ice,
And thought the Youth had been remiss in leaving me to fend alone,
To show me weak, where he was strong.
And Cold who had just let me slip but through her fingers in the wood,
Quite hurried up the trail to me, lest I should miss her … company.
My hands and feet again felt cold. My mind was touched again, I think,
As Cold approached and ‘came more bold, and asked me why I did not quit.
“You think there’s someone left at home, who waits upon your coming there?
And would be waiting up the night if you went missing from her care?
Or is there son or daughter fair, who think of you as wise and good,
To weep upon your funeral byre, forsaking rest and daily food?”
In sorrow at your passing light,
In sorrow, for your passing light?”
And on she went to ask some more, (For Cold now warming to her task),
“Is there some great exalted work, that only you alone must do?”
“And Is it true you think you add a single thing, throughout your life,
That could not be supplied in bulk, without so much as undue strife?”
I could not answer her in turn, ‘though wishing that I could say “Yes!”
Instead, I knew the truth of things, , and welcomed Cold’s investing arms,
To lie there crying—freezing–tears.
While Cold and I there did embrace, the Youth returned to stand in place,
Awaiting me, he seemed to be, until I onward rose again.
I did not hear his tread, once more, but noticed boots before my face,
As waking from a Sunday’s nap, and thought awhile before I placed,
The meaning of these scuffed old boots until the Youth,
No doubt from cold, did stamp them on the ice and snow.
I roused then … coming to myself. “Come on now, sir, no time to rest,”
Says he, and helps me to my feet, and turning then, away from me,
He strode off through the drifts once more.
The wind picked up the snow and ice his boots had kicked up as he left,
And blew it down the wind to me, so shutting off again my sight,
With tears on tears, I cried that night,
Again I lost him in the gloom, and once again I struggled on.
Leaning over, hunched and stiff, each step of mine I had to place,
As if a child whose treasures, found, he lines up one by one in rows.
But, unlike little boys in spring, my treasured steps in rows were not,
But wandered right and left, as I, by wind, and cold and age allowed.
The Edge that feared me somewhere lay, I thought, should be then to my right,
As thence the torrent’s wind did blow and memories saved from brighter day,
Of years ago, I walked these woods, before I knew a man’s dismay,
At seeing what he thought was good be lost because his grip was weak.
But in the black and fierce‘d tide of wind and ice that blinded me,
My boot but tripped upon a rock to make me run to keep my feet,
Then felled me forward, in the dark
Winded ice now blows unchecked,
By one small broken, huddled form.
Swept clean is now the sintered Edge,
From alien intruder of the storm.
The Wind, it knows not to exalt,
In freeing it from one mere man,
Nor does the wind nor ice perceive,
But scours long the icêd-ledge,
Erasing from its silver crust,
The impudent, faint scars of boots,
And fainted slur of aged step.
Blithe to fate, the icy Howl,
Shrieks the halls of dark and stone,
For one small ever-frailing form,
Was never more than briefest glow,
Of heat, within the heart of snow.
–I do not know how far, and lost myself to ken and sense,
And Cold , who had of course, again, not blaming me for leaving her,
Embraced my limbs and mind once more, below the lip along the edge,
Upon the cliffs, I feared to tread
And when I came again to rights, the Youth again to me had come,
And now I realized that he, regardless of my lack of sight,
Was never far from me all night.
He found the branch, which saved my life, although it had required pay.
It took an offering of blood, of mine from wounds, that wounding saves,
And lifting me a bit, so that my feet could once again be used,
We side by side, the Cliffside climbed, out the cleft that was near a grave.
When we had then, at last, emerged from out the cleft, along the edge,
The Youth again stood forth, and turning, left me, once more, alone.
But this time I could see ahead that trees again along the trail,
Did shelter from the wind and ice away from cliffs’ and winds’ torment.
The Edge behind me, entered I another wood as black as one,
Had trapped me for a time with Cold, when Fear to me had counseled that.
But now the wind against my back did blow and hurry me along,
And sheltering somewhat, in the pines, the footsteps of my guide led on.
The way now led down from the heights, along a brook that followed close,
Then to a road, and then again, to Station Place in Shiloh town,
To find again both, warmth and life.
At Shiloh Station’s dull red stove and after shucking gloves and boots,
And sodden socks, and coat, and cap,
I waited midst the steaming clothes to use the ticket I had bought,
Upon the last train, ‘fore it left.
The master of the station there, when I arrived in dark and cold,
upon himself, he took my care, as young men cannot be so bold,
Nor threaten old men, nor to dare … advise them to their best interest,
While after coming back from death in blackened woods and Cold’s embrace.
And glad again to be alive, despite the likelihood of loss,
Yet see the spring in bright relief, and see the wood that once was black,
Alive with flowers’ fragrant dance.
And glad again to be alive, to turn my hand to things of need,
To do what little I can do to keep a span of light about,
This corner of the world I know, and garner what affection’s there,
From lovers, lost and children, gone, to other loves or lives, their own.
And glad again to be alive, ‘though age advance and youth retreat,
And this machine in which I live then fails enough to let me lapse,
The lease and leave–to find a place- some airy digs….and moving thence,
Along a warm and sunny trace, the Landlord’s built and kept for me,
To Live a life both “Further in” and “Farther up,” as Jack would say.
My guide I never met again. That night did never once he show,
Unless you count that looking through old pictures sent me from an aunt,
More aged than I when death she met, I found an old and faded print.
With sea coat, watch-cap; scruffy boots, from off the page … the Youth gazed out.
On back of this discolored scrap was written in her scrawling script,
My name and year in distant past, and “Shiloh Station” was all there writ.