Thursday, July 6, 2017

From Estang to Golinhac, a City of Friends and the Cremation of Sam Mcgee

It was supposed to be somewhere between 12 and 15 K from Estang to Golinhac.
Our guidebooks all gave different numbers.
Standing outside our hotel waiting for everyone, I ran into Joques, an amiable hiker from Switzerland, wearing a hat with a feather. He knew Will and the rest of the Swedes we were walking with.  So we made our way out of town, over the bridge and past the river into the woods where we'd spend the day. 

"I think its supposed to be the three k along the river and another five k up," he explained. 
So we took a picture and said goodbye. We'd run into him all day long.  He's works with the Red Cross.  When I asked why he's hiking, he recalled a group of his friends being killed on a relief mission and realizing he'd better start doing the things he wanted and needed to do now. 

Hiking up, everyone was in a good mood, having gotten out of town on time, feeling the breeze of the morning, the optimism of a new day on the trail.  Only a few days left for us on the trail. 

Hiking, we stumbled into Matthias, our friend from Frankfurt we'd met a few days prior.  His friend Jakob had hiked ahead.  He'd stayed for a quiet dinner with James at the camp sight, tried to catch up with his friend, walked the wrong way and knew there was no catching up.
Sometimes you miss too much if you rush. 
So there we all were, walking and chatting for the rest of the morning, talking about refugees and the lessons of the trail. 

At our first break, we sat to read poems by Robert Frost and Emily Dickenson.   
Matthias told us about his adventures in Canada and Alaska and the Yukon Territory in between.  
We talked about the trail and Jack London. 
Number two talked with us about her adventures with poetry at school and her favorite poem, 
"i'm mad about mustard."
Poetry is inherently subversive, but her school tries to blandify its content.
But you can't take away from feeling from William Butler Yeats' revolutionary words.
And we hiked our last few k taking a break four k out to wait for Caroline and number one. 
The poetry and stories rumbling along in our minds. 

Sitting there Caroline and Matthias talked about Frankfurt and bed bugs. 
We read more poems by Walt Whitman.  
"When you walk, you pack your fears, then as you hike, you unpack your fears," he explained.

And made our way to Golinhac. 
Strolling, we ran into Joques.  And all of us strolled into town, and our Camino city of friends took shape.  Frank and the Australians were there.  Joques seemed to know everyone. 
Matthias sat and had lunch with us and we enjoyed that end of the hike beer and chat that makes the Camino so special.  We'd spend hours there chatting, sharing stories of the road and enjoying being alive together for a brief moment in time.  
"See you in Conques," everyone assured each other. 

The Cremation of Sam McGee

There are strange things done in the midnight sun
By the men who moil for gold;
The Arctic trails have their secret tales
That would make your blood run cold;
The Northern Lights have seen queer sights,
But the queerest they ever did see
Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge
I cremated Sam McGee
Now Sam McGee was from Tennessee,
where the cotton blooms and blows
Why he left his home in the South to roam
‘round the Pole, God only knows.
He was always cold but the land of gold
seemed to hold him like a spell;
Though he’d often say in his homely way
that he’d sooner live in Hell.
On a Christmas Day we were mushing our way
over the Dawson trail.
Talk of your cold! through the parka’s fold
it stabbed like a driven nail.
If our eyes we’d close, then the lashes froze
till sometimes we couldn’t see,
It wasn’t much fun, but the only one
to whimper was Sam McGee.
And that very night, as we lay packed tight
in our robes beneath the snow,
And the dogs were fed, and the stars o’erhead
were dancing heel and toe,
He turned to me, and “Cap”, says he,
“I’ll cash in this trip, I guess;
And if I do, I’m asking that you
won’t refuse my last request.”
Well, he seemed so low that I couldn’t say no;
then he says with a sort of moan,
“It’s the cursed cold, and it’s got right hold
till I’m chilled clean through to the bone
Yet ‘taint being dead-it’s my awful dread
of the icy grave that pains;
So I want you to swear that, foul or fair,
you’ll cremate my last remains.
A pal’s last need is a thing to heed,
so I swore I would not fail;
And we started on at the streak of dawn
but God! he looked ghastly pale.
He crouched on the sleigh, and he raved all day
of his home in Tennessee;
And before nightfall a corpse was all
that was left of Sam McGee.
There wasn’t a breath in that land of death,
and I hurried, horror-driven
With a corpse half hid that I couldn’t get rid,
because of a promise given;
It was lashed to the sleigh, and it seemed to say.
“You may tax your brawn and brains,
But you promised true, and it’s up to you
to cremate these last remains”.
Now a promise made is a debt unpaid,
and the trail has its own stern code,
In the days to come, though my lips were dumb
in my heart how I cursed that load!
In the long, long night, by the lone firelight,
while the huskies, round in a ring,
Howled out their woes to the homeless snows--
Oh God, how I loathed the thing!
And every day that quiet clay
seemed to heavy and heavier grow;
And on I went, though the dogs were spent
and the grub was getting low.
The trail was bad, and I felt half mad,
but I swore I would not give in;
And I’d often sing to the hateful thing,
and it hearkened with a grin.
Till I came to the marge of Lake Lebarge,
and a derelict there lay;
It was jammed in the ice, but I saw in a trice
it was called the Alice May,
And I looked at it, and I thought a bit,
and I looked at my frozen chum;
Then “Here”, said I, with a sudden cry, “is my
Some planks I tore from the cabin floor
and I lit the boiler fire;
Some coal I found that was lying around,
and I heaped the fuel higher;
The flames just soared, and the furnace roared
such a blaze you seldom see,
And I burrowed a hole in the glowing coal,
and I stuffed in Sam McGee.
Then I made a hike, for I didn’t like
to hear him sizzle so;
And the heavens scowled, and the huskies howled,
and the wind began to blow,
It was icy cold, but the hot sweat rolled
down my cheeks, and I don’t know why;
And the greasy smoke in an inky cloak
went streaking down the sky.
I do not know how long in the snow
I wrestled with grisly fear;
But the stars came out and they danced about
ere again I ventured near;
I was sick with dread, but I bravely said,
“I’ll just take a peep inside.
I guess he’s cooked, and it’s time I looked”.
Then the door I opened wide.
And there sat Sam, looking cool and calm,
in the heart of the furnace roar;
And he wore a smile you could see a mile,
and he said, “Please close that door.
It’s fine in here, but I greatly fear
you’ll let in the cold and storm--
Since I left Plumtree, down in Tennessee,
it’s the first time I’ve been warm”.

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