“Come on Ice Bear,” I yell to Zinnia who’s splashing through one of the many little ponds scattered throughout the woods. Specks of snow almost too small to see tickle my face, my boots grip the waterlogged leaves under them.
I look at the bent sapling creating an arch and think how I could lean some more branches against it then drape a tarp over it to make a tent. I would be cold and miserable, but I could spend the night there with the dogs if I had to.
I walk on, wondering how long I could go without eating, or what bark actually tastes like and how long it could sustain me, and I think of Sven.
Actually, I haven’t stopped thinking about Sven since I started reading Nathaniel Ian Miller’s novel The Memoirs of Stockholm Sven a few days ago. On the surface Sven and I have little in common and yet we share a dream, one that Sven comes to realize in a way I will only read about.
It’s 1916 and Sven, who has always dreamed of being an Artic Explorer, leaves his life as a factory worker in Stockholm for a mining job in the Arctic. After he becomes horribly disfigured in an accident he sets out to become a trapper on a remote island even further north.
At one point, Sven laments… But there was still not an ounce of romance in my travails. I wasn’t surviving brutal sledge hauls across the broken ice, or black gums and bleeding hair, or polar bear attacks, or the madness of being ice-bound in the dark months.
I read this part out loud to Jon, even though he’d already read the book, had recommended it to me, and laughed. Reading it out loud, it sounded absurd to even think of finding romance in black gums and bleeding hair.
Yet, I also knew what Sven meant.
As I continued to read about Sven’s harrowing journey to learn how to become a trapper in the unimaginably cold, dark, lonely winters living on a remote island in the Arctic Circle, a part of me wanted to be there too.
Not literally. Just the thought of living in months of darkness is enough to keep me home.
But I do get the romance of being able to survive the harshest of natural environments. Actually, I also think that I’d like to know that I could survive if I had to. There is something appealing to me about the idea of living alone in a small hut in the woods, with my dog, hunting for my own food, facing “Ice Bears” and other dangers of the wild, and surviving it all.
Or at least knowing I have the ability to survive and not just physically, but emotionally too. It seems like the essence of independence and self-sufficiency.
I remember telling a friend about Anne LaBastille’s book Woodswoman. La Bastille built a small cabin in a remote part of the Adirondacks and lived there alone for years. My friend, who I was sure would love the book as I did couldn’t have surprised me more. “Why would anyone want to do that,” she wondered.
I was very happy to come home from my walk in the woods this morning, talk to Jon about what he was writing, make a cup of tea and sit in front of the woodstove to write this.
But whenever I walk in the woods, I’m always thinking about how I’d survive there if I had to.
I guess that’s one of the things I love about reading The Memoirs of Stockholm Sven. I can experience it without having to actually do it. I’ve always been interested in how people survive the awful things that can happen in life. I know It’s because I want to believe that maybe I could survive the worse things imaginable to me too.
I’m only halfway through the book, but so far, Sven’s a good role model.