The walker of the snow

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Snowfall from Frank Ritcey on Vimeo.


There is an excellent poem by Charles Dawson Shanly called “The Walker of the Snow” and it comes to mind whenever I am out on a hike and there is more trail than daylight ahead of me.

I am blessed in that I have tramped many of thousands of kilometers across snowy landscapes and know well the feeling that Shanly conveys in this piece. And while I have net actually met a “Walker of the Snow” I have felt his presence before. It is funny though, never does nightfall bring a sense of foreboding to me, instead it is more like a sense of “This is how the world should be.”

If you, however, are caught out in the wilds and you have run out of daylight it might be a good idea to set up camp for the night. Traveling in the dark subjects you to a whole host of hazards, or maybe even a whole host of horrible hazards, that would be far too long to enumerate – but lets go with twisted ankle, stick in the eye, or falling to your death. None of the aforementioned outcomes are particularly good endings to a day of hiking.

Speed on, speed on, good master, the camp lies far away
We must cross the haunted valley before the close of day
How the snowblight came upon me I’ll tell you as we go
Of the blight of the shadow hunter who walks the midnight snow

Through the cold December heavens came the pale moon and the stars
And the yellow sun was sinking behind the purple bars
The snow lay deeply drifted upon the ridges drear
That lay for miles around me and the camp for which we steer

So silent lay the hillside beside the solemn wood
No sound of life or motion to break this solitude
Save the waving of a loose bird with its plaintive note so low
The skating of a red leaf across the frozen snow

Said I, The dark is falling and far the camp must be
But my heart it would be lighter if I had but company
Then I sang and I shouted, keeping measure as I tread
To the harp twang of my snowshoes as they sprang beneath my tread

Far into that valley had I made my lonely way
When a dusky figure joined me in a capuchon of grey
Then I sprang on my snowshoes with a long and limber stride
I hailed the dusky stranger as we traveled side by side

No token of communion gave he by word or look
And a fear chill gathered over me at the crossing of the brook
For I saw by the sickly moonlight as I followed bending low
That the footsteps of the stranger left no marks upon the snow

A fear chill gathered over me, like a shroud upon me cast
As I sank upon a snowdrift where the shadow hunter passed
And the other travelers found me just before the break of day
My dark hair blanched and whitened as the snow in which I lay

They spoke not as they raised me, for they knew that in the night
I had met the shadow hunter, I had withered in his blight
Sancta Maria speed us, the sun is sinking low
Before us lies the valley of the walker of the snow.