Friday, November 16, 2007

Sarcophagus on Skis

A feature on the sled-hut, which I called the 'sarcophagus on skis' in my Iceland expeditions (photo above is copyright 2004 by Halldor Kvaran). Below, an excerpt from my book manuscript (tentatively titled The Frost Giants), on what it was like to live in this contraption. This is an experiment written in second-person.

Life in a Telephone Booth

Flesh, bone, and mind tell you “That’s it,” and you take last step of the night. It’s been blowing a stiff 30mph all day from your right side and since you’ve stopped moving the chill of the ice cap leaps at your body. Slabs of skin on your face harden in the wind. Super-cooled wind pours into your hood like a pitcher of ice-water dumped down your shirt. The chilled air mass settles in your clothes and your sweat starts to freeze.

As you unbuckle from the harness, your fingers freeze and tighten. They’re like metal pincers worked by cables and pulleys. Your hands feel a thousand miles away by the time you’re out of the harness. It’s as if you’re looking at someone else’s mittens. It’s OK; you’re used to this. You’ve learned to set up camp entirely by grabbing things with the crudest grasps, or pinched between the heels of your hands…

You stand, pushing the sledhut lid hard upwards against the wind. The fabric walls suck in as you push up. Once the lid is as high as you shoulder, you rest it on your shoulder and struggle with the frozen door zipper. You use a combination of frozen claws, breathing on— and then licking— the plastic zipper pull. You get the zipper moving, once again, though you’re not sure how, because your goggles are frosted over and all you really see are wriggling blobs of muted color, not objects.

When the door is open, you thrust your head and shoulders inside, where there’s a glorious moment of peace, out of the wind. It’s pitch dark, but that doesn’t matter because your goggles have fogged on the inside, now. You’ve learned that you can’t do anything about it, so you blindly fumble for the two metal telescoping poles that keep the rear end of the sledhut lid up. They’re frozen tight from condensation last night, so you must brutally break the ice free, using your fists like hammers. The wind has been whopping the loose fabric walls like giant kettle-drums, but now you have them up and tight, and it’s a good feeling; the system is coming together.

You turn around, and sit down on the edge of the sledhut: torso inside, legs outside. You’re half-in and half-out of the sledhut, and the wind finds another way to make mischief, blowing snow into the doorway; you can hear it hissing around inside, feel it settling between your thighs on the sledhut floor…

Finally, you crawl inside for the night. You zip up the door. Your whole body shakes and your teeth chatter. You scrape at your goggles, but they’re too crusted and foggy, so you raise them a little, and you see the darkness in the sledhut filling with a dense white cloud of condensed breath. You know the headlamp won’t cut through this fog, and since your goggles keep a large part of your face warm, you lower them again and work blind for a while longer. You hope, every night, that something will change, but it’s always the same, and you have to work blind. A morbid chill is creeping up the flesh of your thighs, like you're being lowered into a pool of ice-water. It’s as if the ice cap is trying to get into the sledhut with you.
(c)2007 Cameron McPherson Smith


Charles Sullivan said...

Man, that sounds cold, spine-chillingly cold. But I do like the mighty pulkahut. A bit cramped, as you say, but plenty cozy when you're out of the wind.

Cameron McPherson Smith said...

thanks, sparks. i wanted to get the reader out there on the ice, in the slush, to really feel the cold. cheers, cameron