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To Build a Fire

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  • To Build a Fire

  • Narrator

    Day had broken cold and grey, exceedingly cold and grey, when the man turned aside from the main Yukon trail and climbed the high earth-bank, where a dim and little-travelled trail led eastward through the fat spruce timberland.

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  • It was a steep bank, and he paused for breath at the top, excusing the act to himself by looking at his watch.

  • It was nine o’clock.

  • Narrator

    There was no sun nor hint of sun, though there was not a cloud in the sky.

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  • It was a clear day, and yet there seemed an intangible pall over the face of things, a subtle gloom that made the day dark, and that was due to the absence of sun.

  • Narrator

    This fact did not worry the man.

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  • He was used to the lack of sun.

  • It had been days since he had seen the sun, and he knew that a few more days must pass before that cheerful orb, due south, would just peep above the sky-line and dip immediately from view.

  • *

  • Narrator

    The man flung a look back along the way he had come.

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  • The Yukon lay a mile wide and hidden under three feet of ice.

  • On top of this ice were as many feet of snow.

  • It was all pure white, rolling in gentle undulations where the ice-jams of the freeze-up had formed.

  • North and south, as far as his eye could see, it was unbroken white, save for a dark hair-line that curved and twisted from around the spruce-covered island to the south, and that curved and twisted away into the north, where it disappeared behind another spruce-covered island.

  • Narrator

    This dark hair-line was the trail— the main trail— that led south five hundred miles to the Chilcoot Pass, Dyea, and salt water;

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  • and that led north seventy miles to Dawson, and still on to the north a thousand miles to Nulato, and finally to St. Michael on Bering Sea, a thousand miles and half a thousand more.

  • *

  • Narrator

    But all this— the mysterious, far-reaching hairline trail, the absence of sun from the sky, the tremendous cold, and the strangeness and weirdness of it all— made no impression on the man.

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  • It was not because he was long used to it.