Light up your pipe again, old chum, and sit awhile with me;
I’ve got to watch the bannock bake — how restful is the air!
You’d little think that we were somewhere north of Sixty-three,
Though where I don’t exactly know, and don’t precisely care.
The man-size mountains palisade us round on every side;
The river is a-flop with fish, and ripples silver-clear;
The midnight sunshine brims yon cleft — we think it’s the Divide;
We’ll get there in a month, maybe, or maybe in a year.
It doesn’t matter, does it, pal? We’re of that breed of men
With whom the world of wine and cards and women disagree;
Your trouble was a roofless game of poker now and then,
And “raising up my elbow”, that’s what got away with me.
We’re merely “Undesirables”, artistic more or less;
My horny hands are Chopin-wise; you quote your Browning well;
And yet we’re fooling round for gold in this damned wilderness:
The joke is, if we found it, we would both go straight to hell.
Well, maybe we won’t find it — and at least we’ve got the “life”.
We’re both as brown as berries, and could wrestle with a bear:
(That bannock’s raising nicely, pal; just jab it with your knife.)
Fine specimens of manhood they would reckon us out there.
It’s the tracking and the packing and the poling in the sun;
It’s the sleeping in the open, it’s the rugged, unfaked food;
It’s the snow-shoe and the paddle, and the campfire and the gun,
And when I think of what I was, I know that it is good.
Just think of how we’ve poled all day up this strange little stream;
Since life began no eye of man has seen this place before;
How fearless all the wild things are! the banks with goose-grass gleam,
And there’s a bronzy musk-rat sitting sniffing at his door.
A mother duck with brood of ten comes squattering along;
The tawny, white-winged ptarmigan are flying all about;
And in that swirly, golden pool, a restless, gleaming throng,
The trout are waiting till we condescend to take them out.
Ah, yes, it’s good! I’ll bet that there’s no doctor like the Wild:
(Just turn that bannock over there; it’s getting nicely brown.)
I might be in my grave by now, forgotten and reviled,
Or rotting like a sickly cur in some far, foreign town.
I might be that vile thing I was, — it all seems like a dream;
I owed a man a grudge one time that only life could pay;
And yet it’s half-forgotten now — how petty these things seem!
(But that’s “another story”, pal; I’ll tell it you some day.)
How strange two “irresponsibles” should chum away up here!
But round the Arctic Circle friends are few and far between.
We’ve shared the same camp-fire and tent for nigh on seven year,
And never had a word that wasn’t cheering and serene.
We’ve halved the toil and split the spoil, and borne each other’s packs;
By all the Wild’s freemasonry we’re brothers, tried and true;
We’ve swept on danger side by side, and fought it back to back,
And you would die for me, old pal, and I would die for you.
Now there was that time I got lost in Rory Bory Land,
(How quick the blizzards sweep on one across that Polar sea!)
You formed a rescue crew of One, and saw a frozen hand
That stuck out of a drift of snow — and, partner, it was Me.
But I got even, did I not, that day the paddle broke?
White water on the Coppermine — a rock — a split canoe —
Two fellows struggling in the foam (one couldn’t swim a stroke):
A half-drowned man I dragged ashore . . . and partner, it was You.