A Wilder Time by William E. Glassley

A Wilder Time by William E. Glassley

Author:William E. Glassley
Language: eng
Format: epub
ISBN: 9781942658351
Publisher: Bellevue Literary Press
Published: 2017-11-28T00:00:00+00:00

Ptarmigan

INEVITABLY, TO COEXIST AMICABLY with those one came with into the wild, one must bathe. While certainly bracing, bathing in the field in the Arctic is a duty, not a pleasure. There are two reasons why this is so. One is that most streams and lakes are ice-fed, making the water very, very cold. The other is that on a clear, sunny day when there is no breeze and temperatures are appealing enough to make bathing attractive, clouds of mosquitoes descend by the hundreds, if not the thousands, to gorge on naked flesh. The only solution is to bathe when there is a breeze strong enough to keep the mosquitoes downwind, which makes immersion in the water unimaginably painful.

On a particular day in July, when the sky was gray and a slight breeze blew, it was time. It had been days since I last bathed, and I was ripe. After a few hours spent steeling myself that morning, waiting for the temperature to creep up just a degree or two more, I grabbed soap and a towel and headed off.

The stream where the Arctic char swam was to the east of us, a little more than a quarter of a mile away. It tumbled in a torrent through a small boulder-choked gully just before entering the fjord. The rush of water was fed from a chain of three lakes, the most easterly of which sat at the immediate edge of the ice sheet. The walk to the stream was an easy stroll, done in a few dread-filled minutes.

Arriving at the stream, I walked along, looking for a small sheltered pool. Rather sooner than hoped, a perfect spot emerged from around a small bend. Water fell into a small catchment deep enough to submerge myself in, providing just enough space to duck under the frigid cascade.

Taking a deep breath, I quickly undressed and plunged in. To say that it took my breath away is an understatement—the gasp that escaped my lips was probably heard back at camp. A sharp, stinging wave of intensely burning cold exploded from every inch of skin as I shuddered and writhed. As quickly as possible, I soaked myself, stood in the wind and lathered up, then dived again under the waterfall to rinse off. The total amount of time spent in the water was probably less than three minutes, but it felt like hours.

Scrambling out of the water and standing precariously on wobbling boulders, I dried as fast as possible in the biting breeze. My skin was red and burned from the cold, and the scratchy towel seemed to do little more than smear the water over goose-pimpled flesh. I stumbled over boulders, stubbing my toes, to where my clean clothes lay in some bushes and then put them on as an aching numbness began to affect my feet and hands. Once my clothes were on, the relief from the chilling wind was exquisite.

The walk back to camp first led along the pebble beach at the mouth of the stream, then up a small bluff to the tundra bench.



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