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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

To build a fire

Kyle read to me “To build a fire”. It takes place on the Yukon trail where a man travels with his dog on an extremely cold day. The man, trying to dry his wet clothes, makes a terrible mistake by lighting a fire under a spruce tree covered with snow. The dog knows it is too cold to travel, it can see the foolishness of the man but it follows him anyway.

I read it in French a long time ago. To hear it in English is a new experience, I find it very intense, the description of the unforgiving cold is terribly beautiful, the presence of the silent (but thinking) dog, haunting.

“He was a newcomer in the land, a chechaquo, and this was his first winter. The trouble with him was that he was without imagination. He was quick and alert in the things of life, but only in the things, and not in the significance. Fifty degrees below zero meant eighty-odd degrees of frost. Such fact impressed him as being cold and uncomfortable, and that was all. It did not lead him to meditate upon his frailty as a creature of temperature, and upon man’s frailty in general, able only to live within certain narrow limits of heat and cold; and from there on it did not lead him to the conjectural field of immortality and man’s place in the universe. Fifty degrees below zero stood for a bit of frost that hurt and that must be guarded against by the use of mittens, ear flaps, warm moccasins, and thick socks. Fifty degrees below zero was to him just precisely fifty degrees below zero. That there should be anything more to it than that was a thought that never entered his head.”

Jack London – To Build a fire

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