Solstice at the Cave 2014
A Wall of Ice
The light in my cave is poor; the further back from the entrance I’ve been forced to retreat, the darker it has become. Shadows dance on the rock walls, from the slow-burning fire and from the tiny clay chirag that burns night and day with a golden glow and a smell of rancid fat. The entrance gives a faint blue luminescence. Every time it has snowed, I have shovelled it all back, piling it up until the accumulation of snow has become compacted, a wall of ice that reared and then closed over the cave mouth. It would have sealed me in but for a slot no wider than my body that I have somehow maintained, sometimes at great cost, using an axe to hack out the ice that builds up.
I lie in a smoky stupor, wrapped in skins and wool blankets. I rise when hunger, thirst or other needs compel me, but otherwise I curl into my nest of a bed, like a bear. I do not sleep precisely, but I dip into dreams and waking dreams, and though I keep track of the days that pass, I am never sure I am keeping count properly. I make a notch on a stick each morning, but some days it seems that the sun never rises properly. I keep the entrance open, but I don’t often go out. The last time I did, I saw that the forest below was mostly buried by snow, dark green firs poking out but everything else covered by metres of snow. The air was so still I could see my breath turn to ice in front of me.
The cave is well provided for, with fire wood stacked around the walls and supplies of food hidden at the back of the cave. Each new blizzard forced me further and further back into the depths, but now, the wall of ice insulates me from the worst of the cold. I melt water chipped from the wall with my wood-axe, and heat that on my fire. I measure out every stick I burn, every mouthful I eat. I do not know if it will last till the thaw, or yet, till the spring.
The blue light filtering in is moonlight, spilling eerie shifting silver beams into the darkness of the cave. I drag myself to the front of the cave, to see the moon’s phase and gauge how deep into winter we have come. Easing my body into the narrow slot, I feel my clothes catch on the ice. When I reach the end, I see that new snow has filled the gap almost to the top and I must now dig it out again before it freezes too hard. The work makes me sweat and pant; I have done little but this for exercise for what feels like many months. When I break through, and begin to shovel the loose snow back out of the gap, I feel the harsh wind rip into me, flinging back some of each shovel-full. The night has cleared, and I can see a half moon, a slender curving blade, hanging up in a very black sky. I flatten the loose snow, stamping it down, before I retreat inside again, to pull all my covers over me. My mouth is dry but I am too tired to seek a drink.
The dim blue glow of the moon is soon blotted out and I hear the whine and howl of the wind as a new storm breaks over my mountain, and I turn away, watching the dance of the fire and the chirag. I should bank the fire, make sure it will burn for many hours but instead I drift into sleep. When I wake, it is with a jerk of fear. The sound of the storm is gone, and the air inside my cave is very still and my fire is but embers.
When I run to the entrance, to the wall of ice, I can see that the gap has been filled by more snow. I touch it, and find it has frozen solid. It would take me many hours to hack my way out now, and I do not want to go out. Not into that wild, bitter, frozen wasteland of winter.
I sit down by my fire, feeding it with kindling to coax it back to life, and I place a cauldron of ice on it. I pick up my tally stick and count the days. It would seem that we have reached mid-winter, but I cannot go out to greet the sun. The next few days, the sun will stand still, until the climb towards spring begins. As the cauldron steams and the ice melts, I shiver. I must take it on trust that the thaw will come in time and I will be freed from my prison of ice.