Meaning has always seemed a shifting thing—mercurial & relative, given entirely to circumstance. I used to think of meaning as a sort of static wellspring, a thing you encounter after a long journey prompted in its name, a grail, an El Dorado. Something pre-original that waits indifferently for your arrival.
At this time yesterday, the sun had faded well below the range, & in the soft & muted vestigial light I could just discern ridgelines north & south, the swale of the valley where the river cuts across miles of tundra. On either side of the trail, caribou & moose prints, wolf scat with hare fur in it, weaving animal tracks running criss-cross & vermicular across a land too looming & too vast to ever comprehend. The dogs on the line running into that quiet dark, & we on the runners behind them, following suit. & the light fading until full dark enveloped us.
What the dogs always teach are the fundamental lessons of humility & love. These are not lessons you have a choice to heed—they are mandates, & rightly so. You open unto the dogs, give to them the largest fraction of yourself that you can give, cognizant that with each footfall, with each glance back, they are giving you everything. When you fail them, your heart feels it so keenly that the words you would use in remediation desiccate & fall out of your mouth powder-dry, brittle & broken. Your syllabary is divested, entirely, & you are left only with your heart talking to their hearts, pleading & hoping, nothing more. I have known so many things in life capable of beautiful articulation. I have heard sentences that stunned me, read pages that left me in tears, spent years in the study & pursuit of those things-- but the duel capacity for love & loyalty that comes from a dog, like the vastness of the landscape through which they cut a trail, cannot be described adequately.
I think about that though, about how we drive into that darkness & there tethered all as one how we are worlds & worlds of being, each & all. I think about the vastness of the world & then I take from it the sunlight, & then I think about this place & I take from it all signs of civilized life, & in that yawning dark I put myself & a dog team, & scribed in our wake, lines drawn out over miles & miles of snow, is meaning. The kind of meaning I coveted years ago but never knew.
& so it is a shifting thing, a work, a practice to maintain. I fail it, I regain it, I feel it ebb & flow. & like any utterance, the hieroglyph we leave behind of sled runners & paw prints tells a tale that too will fade & alter & ultimately disappear. But we carve it out & know its breath. Its blood is our blood, its heartbeat our own. We with our headlamps darting the tiniest sliver of light over the dogs’ backs, & all around us, the oildark night.