Response

 

Dear Mr. N,

In response to your last message I have the following advice:

Down the path toward the water is the best way. I advise you, young sir, to keep your eyes ahead of you and ignore all distractions. Distractions come in many forms. At first you may not see them as distractions. You may think these things, be they objects or people or even thoughts, to be beneficial, that they will help you out of your current problem. Indeed, I admit, it will be nearly impossible to tell at first. Furthermore, you may object, “but it is impossible to know from first contact whether or not what I encounter will help me or not. One must find out, even if it brings one to one’s death.”

Your’s is a radical response, but in line with the natural order of things. I’ll grant you that much. I stick to my advice, however. I repeat: proceed toward the water, make camp, and stay there for some time. A storm is coming.

The truth is that you must make that camp, and you must make it a resilient one. This is no easy task. Have I ever told you about the Norwegian explorer Fridtjof Nansen? I’m sure I have at some point. In one of our conversations he surely came up. If I repeat myself please forgive me. After months of skiing and trudging through snow and ice at the top of the world, Nansen and his companion to the North Pole, Hjalmar Johansen, were forced to make camp near the end of their journey on one of the islands that make up Franz Josef Land. It was called the Winter Hut.

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Here they wintered. Here they shot polar bears in defense and for food. They cooked on blubber lamps. They thought of home. They planned for the spring when they would finally be able to move again. They made camp when they had to. Of course, they didn’t know this was near the end of their journey. In fact, they didn’t have a very good idea of where they were. They knew one thing: they were on land. They had escaped the pack ice. Progress had been made. They were that much closer to their objective, and they had achieved one objective which was getting back to solid land.

You can imagine spending a winter in the arctic in a subterranean hut. And you can only imagine it. Such a life, to we who live with at least some sunlight and some warmth in the long dark months of the northern hemisphere, is beyond our understanding. We understand to a certain degree the darkness of winter, but we are at least, on a day-to-day basis, if the sky is free from clouds, reminded of the sun. These fellows could not be reminded of the sun (except through their memories of it) because it never ventured far enough north over the horizon.

On top of that they were living in close quarters in a subterranean hut. Their walls were stone, the floor, stone, and they slept on polar bear pelts placed over rocks. The temperature outside was regularly -40. Now, this seems quite outside of what human beings are capable of dealing with doesn’t it? I couldn’t agree more. But, they somehow did it. They got through and eventually made their way back to Norway.

This is the point in my humble epistle when you start yawning. Why go on about these explorers? Why go on about making camp?

It’s about knowing how to fortify yourself. Few men know how. Even those that know how and have done so in the past struggle to utilize this skill. It is likely one of the hardest things for us to do especially these days when our patience is tried by an enumerable amount of things–invasive species of the mind–I like to call them. You may not agree on the term, but that is neither here nor there, now isn’t it? And I won’t go into naming all these “things” as my time is limited, and I’m sure you have a good idea about what I’m referring to.

When faced with this particular hardship, Nansen and Johansen followed their instinct. Get down and get out. That is get out of the cold and wind. Often you will find yourself in a tough spot. It may last a long while, it may be just one day. You won’t know what to do. But you know how to do one thing. Find shelter, whatever that is, even if you have to build it yourself and take cover.

In these situations, which are, I admit, not ideal at all, you will have time. Time to think of greener pastures, well-fed rivers, and dry, arid hills covered in sage. Moments of loyalty; moments of bravery–these will sustain you. A strong memory is one of the best tools one can have in one’s toolkit while in camp. So be sure to safeguard your memory, for in time you will be an old man and all your worries for your youth will seem insignificant. You will look back and realize you didn’t value the strength of your memory.

Look. The sun, behind gray, thick winter clouds, is moving toward the horizon in the gloomy west. A storm is approaching. It is bringing snow. But you have everything in your arsenal ready. You’ve made it down to the water at the end of the path and set up your shop from which you will keep watch as men must do from time to time.

In trust,

-GS

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