I haven’t spoken to another human being in the flesh today. Right now, I’m digging the peace and solitude.
Around noon, I went for my first solo walk around the village. Wednesday, the staff went to get mail and I got the grand tour in the school truck, but I haven’t been able to go see what there is to see on my own two feet on account of the darkness during my off hours. The sun was low, as always, and spilling blue and pink puddles on last night’s thin coat of white snow. I followed my old footsteps toward the school, then walked down the old airport runway toward the Chandalar. Folks on fourwheelers and snowmachines zipped by, and dogs yipped and yowled from across the village. Ravens floated like improbable lead gliders in the still air, so black in a world of pale pink and blue, their voices crackling as they chatted among themselves about some loose garbage near the community hall.
Sound carries differently in the cold. Everything pops and snaps, louder, sharper and closer than it should be.
I picked my way along the thick tracks left by the fourwheelers and snowgos, wondering if there are rules I should know about where I can and cannot or should and should not walk. There are a lot of trails, but there’s no system of roads and driveways that I can identify and understand. I didn’t want to invade anyone’s space, so I smiled at everyone who rolled by, looking bemusedly at me, and stuck to the wider paths away from the houses.
The cemetery is at the end of the old runway, and I explored a little, hoping there’d be no disrespect perceived in my paying a visit to the dead. The markers are mostly wooden, carved with the names and dates of the deceased, and many of the graves are surrounded by waist-high wooden fences. Most had some sort of weatherbeaten garland of plastic flowers. I’ve always felt comfortable in cemeteries. I like the quiet, and I like wondering about the people and their stories, hinted at by the headstones. At home in Maine, graveyards are often in some of the prettiest places, overlooking the ocean or tucked away in cool clearings in the mossy pine woods.
I spent a moment standing in silent company with all those carved names, looking down the bank at the flats where the sun was peeking over the horizon. I didn’t stay long. I didn’t want to draw attention to myself. Instead, I strolled down the bluff, a little nervous to be leaving the village proper, but enchanted by the empty flats and the frozen river, and willing to take up my courage and have an adventure. I’m sure I’ll soon feel silly for being unsure. I never stopped hearing the village dogs and the snowmachines, and I wouldn’t have been out of sight except for the bluff. Everything is new now, though, and I don’t know what’s safe and what isn’t. How far is too far to venture alone?
The village used to be located at the base of the bluff, but there was a huge flood and the community moved up onto the plateau. I rounded a corner on a snowmobile trail and came across an old church, open at all its doors and windows, empty except for an empty bottle of Jack Daniels. I ventured a little beyond it, but felt too timid to go out onto the ice alone, even with the reassuring vehicle tracks to mark a safe path.
I turned back to walk home, this time cutting a new path closer to the buildings, more sure of my place here and of the conventions for passersby. I saw the daily plane come in to land, a noisier and stiffer hunk of improbably airborne matter than the ravens, and thought about going to meet it, but decided to save that adventure for another day. I was ready for a hot lunch, a book, and a cup of tea, my fingers were stiff from taking pictures in the cold and my eyes, the only part of me exposed, felt sticky.
When I got home, I wiped my eyes, realizing as I felt the chill dampness on my fingertips that my lashes had been frozen together. That accounted for the sticky feeling. When I went out again this afternoon, after another turn around the village and a short exploratory walk in a new direction, I took a picture. The moisture from my breath freezes on my lashes and the fluffy wool of my hat. I look pretty glamorous, don’t I? Frosted eyelashes are all the rage these days.