Melting from the warmth,
Snowflakes on our faces;
Winter drops of dew,
Teardrops turned to ice.
The snow whirls down in gentle flurries white,
Fine crystals gather round the folds of our packs,
Rising up in steam off our pony’s back.
At first a pleasant and cooling touch;
A caress and relief from the trudging sweat.
Its winter-bright novelty dusts our heads,
Sparkling along the narrow path we tread –
A soft kiss of Winter after Autumn’s sultry days.
But the chill wind begins to rise, and moan;
And the snow that caressed with velvet paws,
Begins to unsheath its hidden claws
And to slash at our cheeks with a numbing cold.
Our pony’s dark coat lies in frozen bands;
No comfort to reddened, shivering hands.
We have crossed into the Mountain’s lands -
And it bares its teeth only to mock at us.
Shining silver thorns of prickling ice -
They sting our cheeks and blind our eyes;
Our passage the Mountain-side defies.
Each step has become a dark and heavy task,
Each length we struggle upon the way
The Mountain demands that we dearly repay -
The toll-price in coinage of life before day,
A deadly exchange in which we are unwilling.
The smallest ones lay too quiet and chilled,
In their downy nests of snow they sleep -
Of such dreams only Death will they reap.
Their lives will dream away if we cannot warm them,
Their lashes are heavy with the icy flakes.
When daylight comes, if this black storm abates…
We could still be trapped – and if we’re too late…
White death-beds will cover them over in ice.
Sharp-edged cloaks, snow-filled and hard
Drag us down as we stumble on benumbed feet.
The small ones will die without fire’s heat -
In great need we strike a desperate flame…
Hands tingle from heat, grim lips smile in each face.
Snarling in the darkness, the Wind full of hate
For our summer-fed lives crossing Winter’s Gate,
Sends grey flakes falling thickened, heavy as lead.
The teeth of cold seek out our very life,
Tastes of our warmth and sips it away,
Where once a warm and living heart lay,
To leave grey stone’s-chill in its place.
Slower and slower we battle the tide;
The snow yet rises, the fire’s blaze has died.
Our small tongue of flame can no more deny
The ravening desires of this blood-frozen night.
We raise weary eyes to the dimming stars above,
Storm-winds cry out grey, harsh and chill
With fading strength, vows they cannot fulfill.
The last crystals blow across the storm-thickened rime –
Our tired eyes behold the work of the night;
Drift’s blue shadows slip among the white
In bitter ice-barriers of impassable height.
Crystal ice sounds of distant windchimes and bells.
I go to fetch the Sun, cries out the one
Who is lightest of foot and swift of motion,
He makes it seem not an impossible notion.
The daylight brings with it a new hope for life.
The Mountain was certain to have its way.
The Men by strength force out a ragged way -
To retreat back to the valley by the end of the day.
Bitter end to a path that had once seemed so sweet.
What a deception, and treachery deep,
Was that soft kiss of snow on the warmth of the cheek.
A. Buckles / '03